As chancellor, I am frequently asked to make statements on a variety of issues that impact members of our campus community. I want to convey the challenges and how I consider the issue of when I should and should not make statements. This should be a shorter explanation, but the issue is genuinely complicated.
On general campus messages
As chancellor, it is most meaningful when I can celebrate and lift accomplishments that advance the mission of the university – to catalyze the community and enhance lives through rigorous academics, cutting-edge research and dedicated public service. I regularly send messages on certain leadership changes; exceptional external acknowledgments of the work of our faculty, students and staff; new strategic initiatives or large-scale plans; and transformative gifts. During the academic year, I regularly update the campus on important, interesting or exciting developments in terms of campus accomplishments and recognitions.
Addressing issues of direct campus impact
Apart from general campus messages, each statement that I make and do not make comes with much consideration. The easiest cases in determining whether a campus statement from the chancellor is appropriate are when there are important matters involving our campus – specific circumstances or processes that directly impact the campus community – that are most appropriate for me to convey, rather than another campus leader with more specific subject-matter responsibility. These might include issues at the core of our research, teaching or service missions and fundamental campus values, including the protection of free speech and academic freedom.
Even on these campus matters, however, it is inevitably a judgment call whether I should be speaking or whether another campus leader or expert should convey the message. I try to reserve my voice for matters that are of the highest interest to the broad university community, but it’s inevitable that some people will second-guess or have differing thoughts about these judgments. If I spoke on every matter that community members consider important, I would be circulating statements every day, and we have many other leaders who are able to communicate important information to our community. Such is the beauty of being among experts and leaders in their fields at an institution of higher learning. I don’t think the ultimate standard should be whether I or someone else says something.
Balancing process, timeliness and speaking
Importantly, there are circumstances occurring on the campus in which I must refrain from speaking. These include legally protected matters involving ongoing investigations, collective bargaining, personnel issues, student conduct concerns or the need to gather more complete information that require me to prioritize and protect the integrity of processes over the desire of some that I express an opinion. In an age of social media, there are some who have expectations that I and others share thoughts in real time, but doing so often risks undermining other core values of fairness and due process (among other legal considerations).
Matters can be complicated even when we are talking about issues that pertain to internal operations of the campus.
The issues get much more complicated when I am asked to communicate on events that are external to or originate beyond UCI, including local, regional, national or international activities or issues that do not directly impact our core missions of research, teaching and service but nevertheless are deeply felt by members of our community.
Responsibly stewarding freedom of expression
We live in an age in which many people expect their organizations or companies to make statements about political or social issues of importance to an organization’s stakeholders. When I consider these issues, I start by noting that (a) I am designated by the regents to be an official spokesperson of the UCI campus and (b) UC campuses may have official points of view about matters that impact our core research/teaching/service mission (e.g., appropriate levels of state funding, the appropriateness of standardized tests, how we will treat our DACA students) but should not have official points of view about general societal/political matters on which a diverse group of people will naturally disagree, and this is because (c) every UC campus is a government entity, and the government should not be telling the people who work for the government what they should say or think about controversial matters of public opinion, and so (d) in general, I should not be officially associating UCI with certain ideological points of view about domestic or foreign policy matters that do not strike at the core of our academic mission.
This is another way of saying that we exist as a university so that members of the university community are free to express their views on a broad range of issues and that my primary responsibility is to create the conditions under which all of you can express your views without regard for whether I am making formal statements agreeing with you (and disagreeing with your colleagues). Your voice is important whether or not I say anything to amplify it.
If UCI is to be a place where all views can be expressed, it is important for me to refrain from confusing my personal points of view with the official UCI position, especially on matters of political dispute. I would not want my perspective to chill the expression of contrary views on the campus or inadvertently send a signal that certain views should be marginalized or silenced on the campus. If you believe that something happening in the world is important and worth supporting or denouncing, then it is my responsibility to create the conditions in which you can have your voice heard. It should not be important that I also add my voice as the official spokesperson for the official position of UCI on these matters. In almost every circumstance, I do not think that UCI as an institution should have an official position on that issue (even if it is very important to you and even important to me as a matter of my personal convictions).
Managing your expectations on chancellor statements
I am also aware that the decision to make a statement in one circumstance will give rise to endless requests for me to make statements in other circumstances, with no clear means by which I believe I can make a principled distinction about why I speak in one case but not another.
In my view, official university statements on political, social or policy issues should be made – by me or other administrative officials who might be viewed as speaking on behalf of UCI – only when the following conditions are met:
- The external event affects the ability of UCI (or institutions of higher education generally) to advance our mission of education, research and service; or
- The external event causes a level of disruption that raises questions about our community’s ability to pursue education, research or other operations – or for members of the community to function effectively in their roles – manifesting a need to affirm our commitment to community, mission and/or values.
Where external events affect segments of our UCI community, it is our practice to personally reach out to those most directly impacted and extend support and resources to those who need them. In our commitment to student and employee wellness and success – regardless of issuing a universitywide statement – we seek to provide direct means of caring for affected individuals and groups.
Even after sharing these thoughts, I hope it’s clear that the decision whether I should speak on a matter or not is inevitably a matter of judgment. I am not always going to exercise that judgment in a way with which everyone agrees. I also acknowledge that there may be rare exceptions to these considerations that are made based on their individual circumstances.
I hope this explanation helps convey the considerations that lead me not to speak even when you think I should speak – and that my silence is not intended as either complicity with or slight against anyone’s views. In fact, if I am to leave you with any basic point, it is that, in general, I will be erring on the side of not making a statement on events that are external to or originate beyond UCI. Though not all will agree with my approach, it is important for me to share insight into why that is my practice. You have my commitment to stay attentive to the various arguments. I also remain willing to change my views as members of the UCI community provide constructive responses to these considerations.