May 3, 2024

Update on Campus Protests and University Response  

Dear Campus Community,

In the days since the encampment near Rowland Hall was erected, we have been engaged in open discussions with student leaders of the demonstration. Our priority has been to resolve this situation swiftly with a successful good faith negotiation, preventing the kind of threats to public safety and disruptions to university operations that have occurred on other campuses.

On Wednesday, May 1, the university presented a proposal to the protest organizers, addressing nearly all of their initial demands. Our proposal was modeled on a successful agreement at another university which our student protestors had lauded as a victory. 

We received a counterproposal on Thursday, May 2, which introduced a range of new requests which were not part of their initial demands. While some of the new demands can be easily met, most challenge the very core of our mission to educate, to conduct research, and to serve a diverse community without bias. 

The counterproposal calls for ending numerous external partnerships that support our students through scholarships and facilitate long-standing research collaborations. It also demands an end to a wide-range of academic and research collaborations with Israeli organizations and individuals. This would violate fundamental principles of academic freedom and would require us to discriminate based on a person’s nationality, which goes against our commitment to anti-discrimination and our principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.  

Further, the demands include calls for divestment that would violate university policies on investment decisions that are outside the control of any individual campus. They demand defunding the UCI Police Department despite the fact that all UC campuses have adopted new community safety plans after a year-long consultation process that included student input.

Additionally, the demands include actions that would infringe upon our established procedures for handling accusations of faculty misconduct. They also criticize our Center for Jewish Studies and its efforts to address antisemitism. 

Still, I remain optimistic that we will be able to arrive at a mutually-agreeable resolution of this situation. At this time, we are scheduled to continue our discussions on Monday. 

I am very grateful that our student protestors have helped ensure that the encampment remains peaceful and minimally disruptive of university activities, that it is relatively small, that there have been no efforts at building out “fortifications” or amassing material that could be used as weapons, and that there appears to have been no conduct that violates the rights of any other member of the campus community to have an equal educational experience free from discrimination and harassment. It is vital that this continue to be the case. As long as this remains the situation, there is no cause to involve law enforcement, except as needed to help ensure the safety of the protestors and others in the area. 

That said, the continued presence of the encampment is deeply troubling, not only because it violates important and common-sense policies, but also because of the unease it causes many in our community in light of the unfortunate developments that have unfolded at other universities.

I encourage all members of our community to help us maintain a peaceful, non-disruptive, harassment-free environment while we work towards a resolution. Additionally, I urge people unaffiliated with the campus to refrain from actions that would inflame the situation or threaten the safety of our students, staff and faculty.  

I am mindful that some of the messaging arising from these protests is deeply distressing to other members of the university community. But as we have learned during this Year of Free Speech, the campus cannot and should not censor or punish people merely because they are expressing views that others oppose, even if that speech is considered hateful.   

Still, just as we have consistently safeguarded the right to express all viewpoints on our campus, we remain committed to preventing any actions that may silence or intimidate those with differing opinions. Individuals on our campus will continue to have the freedom to express their support for Zionism, their allegiance to the State of Israel, and their concerns regarding antisemitism. Academic programs and centers dedicated to Jewish Studies, Israel Studies, and Antisemitism Studies will continue their work under the principles of academic freedom, even if some disagree with their activities. Embracing a range of perspectives is fundamental to our identity as an institution of higher education in a free society. It underscores the principle that all members of our diverse community are entitled to participate fully in the vital activities of this university.

In my annual message on free speech I stated, "If our commitment to freedom and democracy compels us to defend free speech rights, our dedication to scholarly inquiry and education prompts us to foster norms and practices that facilitate learning from one another in an environment of constructive engagement and mutual respect." Despite the current focus on protest and free speech, we are fundamentally a scholarly community that pursues and transmits higher knowledge and resolves differences through thoughtful, ongoing dialogue, and debate. 

It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the distinctive work of this university continues even when people feel compelled to express their deeply held views through peaceful protest.  

The ongoing global conflict continues to cause distress to members of our community. Students can seek support from the UCI Counseling Center, and employees may access resources through the Life Resources program.

Fiat Lux,

Chancellor Howard Gillman