May 7, 2024

Update on the Rowland Hall Encampment

The encampment near Rowland Hall remains peaceful although we are seeing reports from students expressing concerns about discrimination and harassment as well as reports of disruptive protesting that is interfering with teaching and test-taking. There have been some reports of vandalism and this afternoon more widespread painting of messages on university property are occurring.

While our circumstances are presenting fewer risks of disruption and concerns about campus safety than we have seen elsewhere, the encampment is still having an impact on our learning environment, and every day these violations of university policy continue there is the possibility that the situation will become more fraught. And so, all our efforts are designed to reach a peaceful resolution that leads to the voluntary dismantling of the encampment.

We met with the students on Monday, aiming for a resolution to end the encampment. There was a commitment to continue discussions today, and we conveyed the importance of ongoing, regular, and productive conversations. Unfortunately, the students were not willing to meet with us today. The delays by the students in agreeing to conversations has been frustrating given the need for a timely resolution of this situation and our willingness since last week to meet every day at any time of their choosing.

We have identified several areas where it would be easy to accommodate legitimate questions and concerns, such as being transparent about how we use the resources from the Office of the President to address Islamophobia and Antisemitism and providing information about the investments of the UCI Foundation. We have already enhanced transparency on these two topics and have proposed meetings to discuss further actions. However, there are still demands on the table that are inconsistent with fundamental principles and policies of the University of California.

For instance, to demand an end to any scholarly or educational partnerships with Israel or Israelis not only discriminates based on nationality, but also violates basic principles of academic freedom that are the cornerstone of the rights and privileges of our faculty.

Faculty members have the autonomy to participate in any lawful scholarly or educational partnership or collaboration that they believe facilitates their work. Individual faculty members may opt out of collaborations with individuals from certain countries or organizations; others will make different choices. But academic freedom requires that these choices be made by the faculty members themselves as highly qualified experts in their fields.

Similarly, there are demands that seek to prevent faculty and students from expressing views and organizing programs on topics relating to Israel, Zionism, or Antisemitism that conflict with these protestors’ views. These demands also infringe on the academic freedom of faculty members, as well as the free speech rights of both faculty and other students.

These demands are not only unreasonable, but the protestors also fail to recognize that the free speech rights they challenge are the same ones that protect their rights to express their own views as part of legitimate protest and advocacy. While they feel strongly that views they oppose should not be expressed, I assure you there are also members within our community who view the protestors’ opinions as objectionable, even hateful, and feel they should be censored and punished merely for expressing those views.

People who attend a university in a free society must be tolerant of diverse viewpoints. Rather than trying to suppress differing opinions through pressure or intimidation, they should embrace our scholarly norms and engage in discussions, debates, advocacy, and peaceful persuasion.

The situation in Gaza is a catastrophe and the extent of innocent human suffering is unbearable to watch. Every person who cares about the well-being of humanity should have their attention drawn to this situation and advocate for whatever course of action they believe would best help end this tragedy. But having raised the saliency of this issue, it is very important for the well-being of the campus for all those in the encampment to return to legitimate forms of protest and advocacy.

As we work to prevent the campus situation from developing in ways that would raise more serious concerns about public safety, we must also be prepared to uphold our rules against encampments and the unauthorized building of structures by using the ordinary administrative processes of the campus. Failure to enforce these rules in this circumstance would hinder our ability to prevent others from taking over parts of the campus for their own purposes. It is also unlawful for us to enforce the regulations selectively based on the political views of those involved.

It may be worth noting that peaceful counter demonstrations and alternative academic programming have been organized on campus in accordance with all university regulations. These actions contribute to the expression of diverse viewpoints and the maintenance of order on campus.

I continue to urge all members of the university community to do all they can to foster an environment that can be peaceful, undisturbed, and free from harassment. Those who are unaffiliated with the campus must refrain from actions that will escalate the situation or compromise the safety of our students, staff and faculty.

We are fortunate to have tens of thousands of amazing students who have worked tremendously hard to have the opportunity to pursue an excellent education at their dream school. Even as we focus on this particular event, I hope we can all keep in mind that we have a parallel obligation to ensure that the campus environment continues to support the ambitions and success of all of our students.

Fiat Lux,

Chancellor Howard Gillman