From the Chancellor

Chancellor’s Comments to UC Regents

March 24, 2010

Good morning. I’ve been asked by the Board of Regents to provide some insight into an event that took place on Feb. 8, 2010. I am happy to do so. In order to more clearly understand the context of this event, I would like to first offer these three points.

  • On campus, I often speak about values and why values and civility matter. At UC Irvine, we take our responsibility of helping students navigate their college years very seriously. This journey is rooted in our commitment to developing the whole person. Our campus values are Respect, Intellectual Curiosity, Commitment, Integrity, Empathy, Appreciation and Fun. We try to use them to guide every decision. We have established a Living Our Values Award to encourage others on campus to celebrate those who exemplify values-based decision making.
  • As a public university, we are well aware of our role in the public debate. We, in fact, seek active community partnerships, and we know that they enrich our campus and the lives of our students, faculty and staff.
  • In that same vein, as an open campus, some issues associated with UCI are genuinely not about UCI. We are a venue. The energy for these issues travels from outside in.

So, what happened Feb. 8.

To recount the events of Feb. 8, several campus units including the law school and the Center for the Study of Democracy had agreed to host a community-sponsored event that brought U.S. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to campus.

Eight UC Irvine students and three students from UC Riverside were part of an audience of more than 600 attendees (80 percent nonaffiliated community residents). These 11 students chose to disrupt the ambassador’s speech.

We had been alerted that a disruption might occur. We contacted students who we heard might be involved and were assured that no disturbance was planned. The moderator opened the session with a clear reminder of the civility expected of the audience. Disappointingly, soon after the ambassador began to speak he was shouted down. After the initial interruption, the audience was urged to self-regulate their actions, observe our campus value of respect and hold their comments until the end of the ambassador’s remarks at which time he would take questions. The students did not heed this advice or any of a series of subsequent warnings and admonitions. One after another, in serial fashion, a minute or two apart, they continued to disrupt the event. I issued the following statement early Tuesday morning:

“Last night, Michael Oren, Israeli ambassador to the U.S shared his perspectives on American-Israeli relations in a community sponsored free public lecture in the UC Irvine Student Center. During his talk, several members of the audience stood and shouted – one at a time, repeatedly – in an effort to disrupt his message.

This behavior is intolerable. Freedom of speech is among the most fundamental, and among the most cherished of the bedrock values our nation is built upon. A great university depends on the free exchange of ideas. This is non-negotiable. Those who attempt to suppress the rights of others violate core principles that are the foundation of any learning community. We cannot and do not allow such behavior.

Eleven individuals were arrested as a result of their actions last night. Additionally, the Office of Student Conduct has initiated the Student Conduct Review process to address issues under their jurisdiction.

I am very pleased that the ambassador stayed on and was able to complete his speech. This university is, and always will be, committed to the expression of all ideas and viewpoints.”

We are currently moving through the Conduct Code proceedings, a process that involves multiple steps. Obviously we cannot discuss individual cases in progress. However, I can share our three-step process for responding to violations of the Student Code of Conduct.

  • First is the discovery process where the campus independently conducts a thorough investigation of the facts including interviews with the students themselves;
  • Second is the adjudication process where the Office of Student Affairs will determine the appropriate response to the alleged offenses;
  • Third and last is the appeal process where the students have the right to appeal on specific grounds.

Our values ensure the highest level of protecting the rights of our students – due process – as they move through the process.

If it is determined that they violated the Student Code of Conduct, the students will receive sanctions consistent with the severity of the violation.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide fuller context to the content that you may have heard about. As you know, issues emanating from the conflict in the Middle East have played themselves out on our campus intermittently for the past eight years. Like the Middle East, we have long periods of real progress punctuated by highly publicized episodes of tension. Our issues are rarely internal; they routinely involve external organizations or nonaffiliated individuals. Nevertheless, and no matter which side you support, the learning moment comes from the recognition that we must endeavor to teach tolerance and respect.

  • We teach tolerance. Our model is built around personal growth. Personal growth comes from being exposed to widely varying views of historical and contemporary issues and being able to listen respectfully, learn and either accept or reject new ideas. Justice Louis Brandeis said, “In the frank expression of conflicting opinions lies the greatest promise of wisdom.” In the aftermath of the Ambassador Oren event, I noted that several members of our campus community – including the leaders of the five most prominent Jewish student groups on campus, the Academic Senate, and the dean of our law school who is a prominent constitutional scholar – have chosen to voice their support of our approach to this issue. Their statements are all online. And just last week we were particularly gratified to learn that the Orange County Human Rights Commission had sent a letter of commendation to, among others, the leaders of the five largest Jewish student groups. That commendation read in part:

“… you have exerted tremendous leadership. These important statements of truth from your perspective as Jewish student leaders may bring anger from some who would prefer to portray UCI in a negative light, and vilify the chancellor and his leadership. But understand this, in the nearly 40 years of the commission’s existence as an impartial agency seeking to eliminate prejudice, intolerance and discrimination there have been few instances where a group of young leaders have raised such important voices.”

This is exactly why we work to develop and grow the whole person. This is what it looks like when it works.

  • We live tolerance. This past year the Olive Tree initiative (a student-organized group who travels to the Middle East to learn directly about this conflict) received one of our Living Our Values Awards. We were pleased to host a UC-wide Olive Tree conference last April where students from eight campuses discussed this issue. And this year, two other campuses have started Olive Tree Initiatives of their own.
  • We practice tolerance. In addition to the Olive Tree Initiative, we have had more than 200 lectures, symposia, and meetings (such as those sponsored by the Ford Foundation’s national “Difficult Dialogues” program), or other events focused on helping our students. And we will continue to do more.

Today, the campus is quiet as students prepare to start a new quarter. Their focus is on their studies, and for some, on graduation and what lies ahead. Our focus remains on continuing to provide an outstanding educational value and collegiate experience to each and every student who attends UCI.

My focus and that of my leadership team will be to continue vigorously protecting the campus experience by providing a safe environment for the pursuit of knowledge. I want to say to all students, including perhaps particularly members of the MSU, that we remain open and eager to work with you. We ask only that you give us the opportunity to do so.

Finally let me say this: we have been consistent and we will be untiring in defending our principles, ethics, our code of conduct, and our commitment to values-based leadership.