UC President: There Will be No Complete Ban on Hate Speech

*Editor’s Note: Zev Hurwitz was included in the UC President’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion interview process. He supplied feedback that was used in the report.

The University of California will not enforce a controversial “complete ban” on hate speech, according to according to UC President Mark G. Yudof.  The ban had been a recommendation of the UC President’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion, which Yudof had deployed to survey the needs of Jewish and Muslim students on UC campuses in reaction to past confrontations.

In an exclusive phone interview with The Guardian and other UC campus press, Yudof said that a ban that prevented students from demonstrating beliefs would be impossible. “If by hate-free [campus], you mean people cannot speak out what they think about other people or events or whatever, and it’s simply pure [free] speech, we can’t do it.” Yudof said in a Sept. 19 phone interview. “We protect speech in this country, that’s what our First Amendment is all about.”

Yudof had commissioned the Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion in 2011 to assess the feelings of Jewish, Arab and Muslim students to improve those students’ campus experience.

Between October 2011 and 2012, the council travelled in two teams to interview students on multiple campuses and, in July, released its findings in two separate reports — one for Jewish students and the other for Arab and Muslim students.

Suggestions in the Jewish report included suggestions advising that UC “adopt a hate speech-free campus policy.” This would mean that events such as the annual “Justice in Palestine Week” and other events that contain anti-Israel elements or would not be tolerated on campuses.

The report’s authors, San Diego attorney Rick Barton — who is the national education chair for the Anti-Defamation League — and Alice Huffman, the President of California National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), included the ban with other recommendations such as encouraging the UC campuses to increase education about anti-Semitism and have more kosher food options available.

The report on Arab and Muslim students included recommendations such as increasing the availability of Islamic studies academic opportunities, increasing the availability of halal food, and ensuring that Muslim students have a sufficient number of places to pray. Since August, two separate online petitions, respectively urging UC to accept and reject the Jewish report’s hate speech recommendation,  have collected thousands  of signatures. The petition against the recommendation cited First Amendment concerns.

“In short, the report distorts campus life, and its recommendations threaten free speech on campuses,” the petition on change.org said.

Yudof said that his office was already taking steps to address some of the recommendations, such as the request for more places for Muslim students to hold prayer services—though none of the recommendations, including the hate speech ban, will be coming to any sort of vote.

“There’s been a lot of misinformation about that. These sets of recommendations are not coming to a vote in the campus climate committee,” he said. “These are reports that I commissioned to advise me and my staff and I will be wading through them to see what makes sense.”

This is not the first time that a hate speech ban has been proposed for UC campuses. Following the infamous “Compton Cookout” incident in 2010, the Black Student Union BSU advocated for a similar ban and worked with the 10-campus representative UC Student Association to have the UC regents adopt it. While no formal ban was enacted, a federal investigation led to the April 2012 opening of the UCSD Office of Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination which was created to prevent similar incidents from occurring.

In 2010, a Facebook event page for a racially-driven party, dubbed “The Compton Cookout” sparked a series of racially-charged incidents around campus, including a noose that was left hanging in Geisel Library.

The release of the two reports in July is not the end of the UC Office of the President assessing campus climates. On Sept. 18, UCOP announced the launch of a new online system-wide survey that will be made available to all students during this academic year and will assess general campus climate. Yudof stressed the need for UC students to respond to the upcoming survey. “It’s hard to know what students really think. We need to get at least 30 percent [of students] to participate to have a balanced report. I’m hoping it will lead to more intelligent policy.”