The University of California’s regents voted Thursday to scrap a proposed speech code after protests from free speech groups who called it a form of censorship, as well as from Jewish groups who said it did not do enough to address anti-Semitism.
About two dozen people gave input to the board of regents at their meeting at UC Irvine about the proposed “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance,” which called for the university’s 10 campuses to e “free from acts and expressions of intolerance.” Among other things, the proposed statement would have prohibited “depicting or articulating a view of ethnic or racial groups as less ambitious, less hardworking or talented, or more threatening than other groups.”
Jewish organizations concerned about a series of incidents on campuses — including swastikas painted on a UC Davis Jewish fraternity house and Hitler graffiti — asked the UC system in March to take a stronger stand and adopt the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which includes demonizing Israel or denying its right to exist. However, the proposed code did not include any explicit mention of anti-Semitism or Israel.
On Thursday, Regent Norman Pattiz urged the body to take a real stand against the anti-Semitic incidents described by students and said that was the intent behind making such a declaration. UC is the first statewide university to consider adopting such a set of principles against intolerance.
“To not recognize why this subject is even being brought up is to do a disservice to those who brought it up in the first place,” he said.
His comments were echoed by other regents and welcomed by Jewish students and groups. They said they hope a new statement will address a rash of anti-Semitic incidents.
The Los Angeles Times reported that regents chairwoman Monica Lozano announced that she would form an eight-person committee made up of regents, a student regent, and a faculty leader, among others, to craft a new policy.
“They want to examine the issue and for that we’re grateful,” said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, executive director of the AMCHA Initiative, which fights to end anti-Semitism on campuses. “There is a difference between taking a position against a government and calling for its elimination.”
“I’m pleased we have a reprieve and they are not going to adopt this milquetoast, meaningless statement, Rossman-Benjamin added to the Los Angeles Times.
Jewish groups say campus debates over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were disintegrating into the harassment of Jewish students. The State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism clearly identifies the different forms of anti-Semitism that exist, they say.
UC President Janet Napolitano in a May radio interview had expressed support for adopting the State Department’s definition.
Critics of Israel said it was too soon to tell what a revamped statement would look like, or mean. UC Irvine graduate student Kurt Horner told the Times he believed that adoption of of the State Department definition of anti-Semitism would squelch debate about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
“If that is not a political situation you can talk about, then you cannot talk about any political situation anywhere or about any government in the world,” said Horner, though he later told the paper he would support stronger language against anti-Semitism in any revised policy.
UC officials said the statement is intended as a declaration of the school’s beliefs and that disciplinary measures would still be guided by existing policies and federal laws.