Letters to the Editor

Chancellor Defends Academic Discussion

Several people have asked me about Professor John Yoo’s participation in the Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Series on Feb. 7.
It has been suggested that the invitation be withdrawn because of his association with, and influence on, controversial policies and actions of the U.S. government, and that Professor Yoo’s CDF address be replaced by a debate with professors and legal professionals in the area.
I appreciate the fact that these suggestions include a commitment to free speech and to giving Professor Yoo a chance to be heard at UCI.
I also agree that it will be useful to engage other knowledgeable speakers in an exchange with Professor Yoo in addition to his formal lecture.
He has agreed to participate in such a discussion earlier that day. More information about that event will be announced later this month once the arrangements are made.
I do not agree, however, that Professor Yoo’s influence on specific governmental policies or practices is grounds for withdrawing his invitation as a speaker in the CDF Series.
To the contrary, the series is designed to bring to our campus speakers who have had a role in shaping our world and determining its future, however that influence may be judged.
The invitation is not an endorsement of the speaker’s position but a recognition of its importance to the civil exchange of competing ideas that make up a vital intellectual community.
The effectiveness of that exchange depends on the opportunity for speakers to make their case as directly and forcefully as possible so they may be engaged at the level of reasoned and vigorous debate appropriate to an academic setting, whether that debate occurs in the presence of a single speaker or within the ongoing conversation that the CDF Series attempts to sustain from year to year.
Selection of speakers for the CDF Series is based on nominations received in response to the annual call that usually goes out in winter quarter (though it was delayed till spring quarter last year by budget uncertainties).
That call seldom produces enough nominations of the desired level of distinction, influence and public visibility to fill the roster for the year, so we also entertain less formal suggestions from students, faculty and staff.
We then add speakers to the series throughout the year as the budget permits. (That is why we usually have two or three speakers who do not appear on the poster and brochure.)
In addition to the basic criterion described above, fellows are selected to represent a broad range of disciplines, and occasionally special consideration is given to nominees who may plausibly be considered as prospective candidates for appointment at UCI.
Other considerations can influence selection as well, including the pressure of current events, scientific breakthroughs or special interests of the campus.
Since UCI approved plans for a law school, for example, we have tried to have at least one or two speakers a year from the top law schools across the country; a special subcommittee seeks out likely nominees from this field and proposes them for the program.
All nominations are vetted by a committee chaired by Associate Executive Vice Chancellor Michael Clark.
The committee consists of the chairs of the Faculty Senate and the Staff Assembly, plus a representative from the chancellor’s office, plus ad hoc consultants from the faculty if or when the need for special expertise arises.
The committee then presents its selection to me. I usually approve the list as submitted (though I occasionally suggest changes or additions, which are also vetted by the committee).
For more information about the Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Series, including the full list of speakers for this year, see http://www.chancellor.uci.edu/cdfs/index.html.

Ralph Cicerone