Report calls for regulating hate speech at U.C.

In a move that’s poised to spark a First Amendment debate at the birthplace of the 1960s Free Speech Movement, a fact-finding team issued a report last month recommending the U.C. system adopt a policy that bans “hate speech” on its 10 campuses.

The July 9 report on the campus climate confronting Jewish students at U.C. followed eight months of interviews with Jewish students and others about anti-Israel protests and issues of anti-Semitism at their schools. A parallel report was prepared looking at the campus climate for Muslim and Arab students.

The Jewish campus climate report was presented by Richard D. Barton and Alice Huffman, two members of U.C. President Mark Yudof’s 17-person Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion (CCCI) — a body formed in 2010 in the aftermath of a series of high-profile, racially loaded events at U.C. San Diego and U.C. Irvine.

Alice Huffman

The report has been presented to the rest of the advisory council and to Yudof. It will now go through a consultative process in which students, faculty and staff organizations will have the chance to weigh in on policy changes before any real action is taken, said Steve Montiel, media relations director for the U.C. Office of the President.

Montiel said it could be several months before the president moves forward based on any of the findings.

Previous CCCI studies have tackled topics such as campus safety, faculty diversity and LGBT issues — and the university took various actions, such as implementing safety training and forming an LGBT task force.

What comes out of Barton and Huffman’s recommendations remains to be seen.

The duo met with a wide range of people — from Jewish students and faculty to representatives of Jewish organizations to non-Jewish college administrators and community leaders — between October 2011 and May 2012 at six U.C. campuses: Santa Cruz, Davis, Irvine, Berkeley, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Barton, a San Diego–based attorney, is the national chair of education for the Anti-Defamation League, and he also serves on the ADL’s national executive committee. Huffman is the president of the California NAACP.

The separate fact-finding team dealing with Arab and Muslim students at the same schools found that students who are visibly active in Muslim communities feel they’re often the victims of prejudice, both through harassment from other students and sometimes in the classroom, where faculty members have made reference to what students feel are stereotypes of Arabs as “terrorists.”

Richard D. Barton

That report recommended more cultural competency training, the creation of a campus prayer/meditation space, and increased consistency and transparency with regard to how the administration interacts with student groups. Among its 11 recommendations, however, was nothing about hate speech. 

On the Jewish side of things, what Barton said he and Huffman discovered was a complex cultural and political landscape in which not a single Jewish student reported feeling physically threatened on campus — but a host of other challenges were made abundantly clear.

“What struck us first is how diverse Jewish students are in terms of their perceptions and involvement with Israel,” said Barton. “There’s a whole group in the middle that isn’t all that involved,” with others who feel their “identity is very connected to Israel” and others yet who sympathize with “the issues of Palestinians.”

Regardless, Barton continued, “It became very clear that the movement to bring BDS [boycott, divestment and sanction] and these ‘Israel apartheid’ weeks to schools is incredibly divisive and creates a lot of stress for these campuses … [Jewish students] feel marginalized and targeted by this movement.”

Then again, Barton said that in a general sense, “Jewish students are extremely happy to be part of the U.C. system in general.”

The recommendation to “seek opportunities to prohibit hate speech on campus” and perhaps prevent “well-known bigoted and hate organizations from speaking on campus … such as the Ku Klux Klan” is one of eight recommendations in the Jewish campus climate report. No specific course of action is outlined for how to create a “hate speech–free” campus; rather, the document suggests Yudof should request an examination of potential policies by the university’s general counsel.

Other recommendations include establishing a university-wide definition of anti-Semitism (such as the European Union’s working definition), addressing the dietary needs of students who keep kosher and better accommodating observant students’ academic needs around the holidays.

But the idea of “prohibit[ing] hate speech” is the only one to draw criticism so far.

Lawyer Alan Dershowitz told the Jewish Daily Forward such a ban would be “a very serious mistake. The first victims of the policy would be pro-Israel advocates. It will backfire.” On Aug. 8, Yudof responded to a July 20 letter from “concerned members of the U.C. Jewish community,” saying that both reports would be analyzed by his office, and he welcomed further community input. But, emphasizing his commitment to constitutionally protected free speech, he wrote, “I believe our current policies may go as far as they can, given constitutional limitations.” While students, staff and faculty need to feel safe on campus, he wrote, “[T]he answer is not to restrict speech, but rather to see that all our community members feel supported by the University.” He endorsed the call to address dietary and living arrangement needs of Muslim and Jewish students, as well as the appropriateness of spaces for meditation or prayer on campus.

Emma Silvers