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UC regents again postpone vote on policy to restrict some faculty speech


Public speakers address UC leaders during a March UC regents meeting at UCLA.

Credit: Julie Leopo / EdSource

The University of California’s board of regents on Thursday again postponed a vote on a controversial policy to restrict faculty departments from making opinionated statements on the homepages of university websites. The regents could next consider the policy at their July meeting in San Francisco.

The proposal was initially introduced after some faculty departments, such as the ethnic studies department at UC Santa Cruz, posted statements on their websites criticizing Israel’s invasion of Gaza in response to the Hamas assault in Israel. The potential adoption of the policy comes as pro-Palestinian protests and encampments have popped up across the system’s 10 campuses, with arrests of hundreds and, at UCLA, a violent counter-protest.

How a university should respond, if at all, to various forms of protest has suddenly become an overwhelming question across California and the rest of the nation, affecting graduation ceremonies and faculty support of campus leaders.

The agenda for Thursday’s regents meeting at UC Merced included the policy as an action item to be voted on by the regents, but for the third consecutive meeting, the vote was delayed. Unlike previous meetings, the item was not discussed in open session before regents decided to postpone the vote. They did not say whether it was debated in closed session. 

Faculty across UC have criticized the policy, arguing that it would infringe on academic freedom and questioning how it would be enforced. But supporters of the policy, led by regent Jay Sures, say it is needed to ensure that the views of faculty departments aren’t misinterpreted as representing UC as a whole. Sures could not be reached for comment Thursday about why the item was delayed again.

Under the latest version, political and other opinionated statements would not be allowed to appear on the homepages of departmental websites. They would be permitted elsewhere on those websites, but only with a disclaimer stating that the opinions don’t represent the entire campus or university system.

Entering the regents meeting, academic senate leaders had asked the regents not to adopt the policy and instead issue a statement endorsing recommendations made by the senate in 2022. The latest policy in many ways mirrors the senate recommendations but does have some key differences. The senate recommendations would permit faculty departments to make political statements on UC homepages, as long as the statements include a disclaimer and don’t take stances on elections. 

“We would welcome a straightforward Regents’ statement endorsing the 2022 Senate recommendations rather than the creation of new and not entirely clear bureaucratic regulations that raise issues of compliance and enforcement,” wrote Jim Steintrager, chair of the senate, in a letter to regents ahead of this week’s meeting.

Steintrager did, however, say the policy was an improvement over previous versions because it “enunciates clearer goals, defines key terms more explicitly, and better specifies the types of statements it covers.” 

Steintrager also wrote that he appreciated that the regents took feedback from the senate ahead of this weekend’s meeting. That sentiment was echoed by James Vernon, a professor of history at UC Berkeley and chair of the Berkeley Faculty Association. Vernon said in an interview this week that the regents ahead of this meeting took “a more consultative approach to the academic senate.”

But Vernon, like senate leaders, still has reservations about the policy and questioned whether it’s an issue the regents should be dealing with at all. 

“For me, this policy represents an overreach by the regents. The academic senate has already issued a report about statements on websites. It set out a set of discretionary guidelines for campuses and departments to follow. The regents are now trying to impose a policy where those, um, where their recommendations are required,” Vernon said.

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