Facilitated free speech

UNIVERSITY ISSUES: A new change in UC policy to protect faculty speech is encouraging but the policy should be broader.

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The UC Board of Regents approved a change to its faculty code of conduct earlier this month to protect faculty members who wish to speak out against administrative policies from the possibility of losing their jobs. It comes as a surprise that this protection was not already in place; it should be expanded to include opinions beyond those on institutional matters.

The decision to change the faculty code of conduct stemmed from a 2007 U.S. District Court case in which UC Irvine professor Juan Hong filed a lawsuit against the university alleging he had been denied a salary increase in 2004 due to his criticism of the hiring and promotion decisions within his department. The court ultimately ruled against Hong, finding that he was not entitled to protection under the First Amendment because he had made the comments as a public employee and not as a private citizen.

The university is bound to make decisions that its faculty members do not agree with. The UC Academic Senate and Academic Senate divisions at various UC campuses have been openly critical about administrative decisions in the past, including the amount of faculty input in UC governance. All faculty members should be able to express their opinions without fear of retribution.

The UC Board of Regents should think about reviewing the faculty code of conduct to include all types of free speech under the First Amendment that apply to a faculty member as a private citizen and public employee. UC Berkeley started the free speech movement, and it continues to be a basic tenant of the university’s culture for faculty members to participate freely in rallies and protests.

The UC system owes it to its professors to be able to express their opinions.