CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM
Los Angeles, April 11, 2017
To: California Senate Education Committee
California Senate Judiciary Committee
From: California Scholars for Academic Freedom
Re: SB 677 “Student Whistleblower Protection” (Moorlach)
We write on behalf of the California Scholars for Academic Freedom** to express deep concerns over SB 677 introduced by Senator Moorlach. If approved, SB 677 will amend the Education Code section 78907, which prohibits “The use by any person, including a student, of any electronic listening or recording device in any classroom without the prior consent of the instructor….” SB 677 will allow anyone, including students, to secretly record classroom statements and conversations, based on a perceived “reasonable belief” that the statements violate a particular law or policy.
We believe the bill is an attempt to change the environment of free exchange of ideas in the classroom and on college campuses in California. If approved, it would foster an unnecessarily adversarial relationship between students and faculty. In particular it would have a chilling effect on California higher education and would impinge on all faculty’s ability to fulfill their fundamental mission of discovering knowledge and disseminating it to students and to society at large in an environment free of intimidation and fear of reprisals. Worse still, this bill will provide political and interest groups with an opportunity to silence dissent and limit academic freedom by allowing the recording and reporting of class lectures and discussions out of context, and, in this age of social media sensationalism, with no concerns for accuracy, transparency and due process. In a word, it will give people and organizations with a political agenda the tool to smear at will anyone’s academic reputation and gravely jeopardize academic freedom as a whole on university campuses.
The political motivation of the bill is made clear by the fact that its authors don’t cite any situation which would even warrant taking seriously their concerns: the bill pretends to provide protection for students, who “believe” they might be penalized for their political views expressed in the classroom, ignoring the fact that universities already have policies and well-established procedures to deal with students’ complaints and to ensure full protection of freedom of speech for students and other members of the university community.
Turning students into snitches and agents for the state is not only detrimental to the entire goal of higher education but also to the health of our democratic culture as a whole. A meaningful higher education exposes students to different ideas and perspectives to help them develop critical thinking, become independent thinkers, and educated citizens. If professors do not have the freedom to express ideas different from the accepted norms, the educational system would fail to fulfill its core mission.
To protect California higher education, academic freedom and freedom of speech we urge you to oppose SB 677.
Prof. Manzar Foroohar
Professor of History
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Prof. Claudio Fogu
Associate Professor of Italian Studies,
Department of French and Italian
University of California Santa Barbara
Prof. Lisa Rofel
Professor of Anthropology
University of California, Santa Cruz
**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of some 200 scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.
CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM
March 31, 2017
Dear Vice-Chancellor Joughin,
Thank you for your response to our protest of your cancellation of Professor Richard Falk’s talk at your university. However, we continue to find the reasons given for the cancellation of these talks — that they were not organized according to “procedure” or that they pose concerns for “public safety” — utterly unconvincing and disingenuous. Those who have convinced you to cancel these talks are clear about their motive—to suppress criticism of Israeli state policies. Their disingenuousness lies in equating valid criticism of state policies with anti-Semitism.
A talk should not be cancelled on the mere supposition that there will be security issues since that would constitute prior restraint. If there are security concerns, the university has the obligation to provide security. Your university also surely has the capability of providing such security on any amount of notice, no matter how short.
The cancellation of Professor Falk’s talk thus signals an accession to growing threats to academic freedom. To repeat, at this moment in history, universities must stand as the strongest possible bulwark of free speech, academic freedom and public debate. We feel that your actions signal precisely the opposite. Your action sets a dangerous precedent, and could very well curtail other forms of speech that you would very much like to see protected by law.
In your response, you wrote “we would happily consider welcoming Professor Falk to our campus on another occasion.” We look forward to learning about a renewed invitation to Professor Falk.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom
Maxine Elliot Professor, Department of Comparative Literature
University of California, Berkeley
Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, Department of Comparative Literature
Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of California, Santa Cruz
**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.
Letter from Vice-Chancellor John Joughin of University of East London in Response to our letter about the cancelled talk by Richard Falk
Dear Ms Rofel
Thank you for your email and letter regarding the cancellation of Professor Richard Falk’s book launch at our campus.
It was obviously disappointing to have to cancel this event at such short notice. Unfortunately, we were left with no other choice because we were only made aware of the event the day before. Given the protests likely to occur at the event, there was a clear need to assess and manage the risks involved. However, the lack of notice provided by the organiser meant that we were unable to do so.
This has obviously caused disappointment for both staff and a range of external stakeholders who were booked to attend. As you will have seen online, it has also provided a platform for certain interest groups to claim that we cancelled the event at their request. This is emphatically not the case and we would happily consider welcoming Professor Falk to our campus on another occasion.
UEL has long hosted a wide variety of events and speakers on our campus, often sparking fierce debate and discussion. I feel very strongly that universities must remain a place of debate and free speech and this is a critical part of what we offer to our students, staff and wider society. However, we cannot do this unless we ensure the appropriate procedures are followed which allow us to exercise due diligence and prioritise the safety and wellbeing of those involved. We don’t seek to prevent protests, but we must take reasonable steps to manage their potential impact.
Thank you again for taking the time to write to me about this important issue.