63.4 F

Davis, California

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Don’t be hatin’

Now that Davis is down to a chilly 92 degrees, this story may not resonate with some of you as it might have last week, but I’m telling it anyway. Walking home from the ARC, I felt like getting a cool drink. Wading through the waves of heat oozing upwards from the asphalt, I made my way to a gas station/junk food emporium in hopes of purchasing a tasty beverage. After sifting through a bevy of choices, I made a selection (Gatorade Fierce, so that everyone who saw me drinking that afternoon would think I am a more intense, well-hydrated individual than they are) and approached the cashier.

Alas! I realized at the same time I reached for my wallet that it wasn’t there.

It would have been awfully convenient for me if I could just ignore shoplifting, petty theft and other laws against stealing. I would have been up a beverage and down a case of the thirsties. But I’m fairly certain that local authorities wouldn’t have been very keen on me doing that (despite my readily apparent Fierceness). That’s one reason laws work: Mostly everyone abides by them and those that don’t face repercussions. You can’t just ignore laws.

Interestingly enough, this is exactly what the University of California is trying to do. California State Senator Leland Yee has drafted Senate Bill 1370, designed to protect journalism advisers across the state. As reported in The Aggie on July 10 (“UC opposes bill to protect journalism advisers”), the university has written a letter to Senator Yee announcing its intention to pretty much ignore the bill.

“The University of California respectfully informs you that we are unlikely to adopt Senate Bill 1370,” the letter reads. The university’s reasoning is summed up in the sentence following that one: “The bill is not simply limited to free speech rights for Journalism teachers, as implied, but the provisions would extend to all UC faculty and employees.”

The bill, also known as the Journalism Teacher Protection Act, prohibits “an employee from being dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned, transferred or otherwise retaliated against for acting to protect a pupil engaged in conduct authorized by state law or refusing to abridge or infringe upon conduct that is protected pursuant to United States and California Constitutions.” Basically if a student newspaper prints something the administration doesn’t like, the administration will no longer be able to take their anger out on the newspaper’s adviser.

Because the law’s language says “an employee” and not something more specific, the university is concerned that a loophole will be created that will inhibit its ability to make sure faculty are following correct instruction standards and policies.

I suppose that the university is right; a professor could indeed allow a student to spout conspiracy theories for an hour instead of lecturing. Said professor could argue they were protecting the student’s right to free speech. This bill would certainly make it more difficult for the university to discipline the professor.

Tough cookies.

A public university should lead by example, and by stating its intention to ignore what could become state law, the university is sending the wrong message to its students. It sends the message that it’s OK to ignore a law when it’s inconvenient to follow.

One of the core strengths of the United States is the freedom of the press, a freedom it would be ludicrous to take for granted. It takes courage to stand up and tell the truth; journalism advisers do their best to teach the next generation of journalists, and they should be defended while they do. The university itself has noted that the law has little relevance to UC practices.

Part of the letter in opposition to the bill reads as follows: “The UC feels strongly about academic and speech freedoms evidenced, in part, by our inability to identify a single example of the University of California acting to discipline employees for supporting the free speech of University students.”

Then the law shouldn’t be that big an issue, right?

It should also be noted that the letter and views discussed here represent the official position of the University of California through the UC Office of the President; as with any large organization, there are multiple voices and opinions. The Council of University of California Faculty Associations, for example, has written a letter to Senator Yee expressing support for such a law.

In an instance where it could have been seen in a positive light as a full-throated supporter of free speech for all its employees and students, the university has instead come across as a bit of a whiner. It is unfair to be a public institution and then refuse to abide by the laws of the very state in which you reside.

You can’t have your Fierce and drink it too.


RICHARD PROCTER has been on a “West Wing” kick lately. E-mail him your favorite quote from the show (or, you know, any thoughts you have on the column) at rhprocter@ucdavis.edu.


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