California took a major step forward in reversing the steady rollback of student speech rights this year by passing a law protecting the rights of student free speech and prohibiting the firing or suspension of employees for exercising their free speech rights on newspapers and organizations. That is when the sponsor, State Sen. Leland Yee, received a letter from Happy Chastain, senior legislative director for state government relations in the UC president’s office — stating that the school would not comply with the law.
[Not so] Happy stated “respectfully” that: “The University of California must maintain its ability to correct situations in which a member of its teaching corps or a University employee has failed to comply with academic teaching standards, violated UC policies, broken rules or laws, or misused University resources. . . . Under the provisions of SB 1370, UC is concerned that its ability to act in such circumstances would be restricted and expose the University to frivolous and unwarranted litigation.”
That seems a rather lame excuse: we will not protect free speech because people may sue us for not protecting free speech. The fact is that a protection of free speech does not mean that employees can engage in unlimited and disruptive speech. Free speech outside of the university setting is customarily subject to reasonable limitations.
It will be interesting to see how a public university fares in fighting a free speech law, but I cannot see the wisdom in publicly stating an intention to violate the law. That would seem a far greater magnet for litigation. It is baffling why university lawyers would want to create such a record against themselves. In the first case of a violation, the opposing attorneys will pull out Happy’s missive and show a court that the violations were not just reckless but intentional acts. Of course, one can only imagine what her colleague Grumpy would have written.
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