To Chancellor Howard Gillman:
At the beginning of every year, you send out a message to students regarding the campus’s commitment to free speech and “the need for all of us to foster a culture in which we engage each other with mutual respect.” I agree with that full-heartedly.
But when you write things like: “When members of our community attempt to disrupt business or authorized events, or prevent members of our community or invited speakers from expressing their views, our obligation must be to defend those who would otherwise be silenced. There is no free speech right to shout down your opponents,” it seems incredibly tone deaf to the state of the community. There’s a difference between criticizing those in power and shouting down the disempowered.
My main problem with much of the modern debate around the extent of free speech is that it’s not really about free speech at all. There exists now in this country a certain type of people who would have you believe that they are the vanguard of our First Amendment rights against an onslaught of “PC-police” and “SJWs” who “silence free thought,” but none of those things could be further from the truth.
Free speech, a widely supported idea, is invoked as a means of deflecting legitimate criticisms against the status quo and against those who would see to it that others remain persecuted and “in their place.” Late last year, many commentaries on the protests at the University of Missouri took on the airs of being about free speech, when the protests themselves were over consistent racial discrimination at the school.
Now, I’m not saying that the situation at UC Irvine is nearly as bad as it was at the University of Missouri, but I am saying that it’s disappointing to see you condemn the practices of those in the community whose futures are at stake.
You wrote, “One person’s offensive speech is sometimes another person’s legitimate challenge to our wrongheaded views.” But would you endorse Donald Trump’s positions or statements as legitimate challenges to our wrongheaded views?
When Trump announced his candidacy for president, he said “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people”
He later “clarified” by saying, “But you have people coming in and I’m not just saying Mexicans. I’m talking about people from all over that are killers and rapists and they’re coming to this country.”
I don’t think these statements are something anyone should defend, let alone under the guise of free, valuable discourse.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, your predecessor Daniel G. Aldrich Jr. fervently fought to allow people like Eldritch Cleaver, Dorothy Healey, Timothy Leary and the Chicago Seven the right to speak at UC Irvine.
Universities are places where we push the boundaries of knowledge and understanding, but I don’t think that everyone’s opinion is inherently a legitimate one. People have every right to have their opinions, but that doesn’t mean anyone has to like them, nor does it mean that others have to okay with the propagation of beliefs that are fundamentally based on discrimination.