ACTIONS TO SAFEGUARD CIVILITY at UCI, EVERYWHERE
It has been a while since I’ve posted in this space and my return is timed with the following letter that was sent to me by email this today. It is from Shalom Elcott, President of Jewish Federation & Family Services.
As we informed you last June, the UCI administration suspended the Muslim Student Union (MSU) and took disciplinary action against the students who participated in the organized disruption of Ambassador Oren’s talk at UCI in February 2010. At that time, we wrote that “we commend the University for this judicious decision in support of free speech and civil discourse…”
Last Friday, the Orange County District Attorney announced that the 11 students arrested at the Oren event were charged with conspiring to disrupt the speech. The students will be arraigned on March 11th on several misdemeanor counts, and if convicted, could be subject to fines, probation through community service or a jail sentence.
“This case is being filed because there was an organized attempt to squelch the speaker, who was invited to speak to a group at UCI,” District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in a statement. “These defendants meant to stop this speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting. This is a clear violation of the law and failing to bring charges against this conduct would amount to a failure to uphold the Constitution.”
So, are criminal charges excessive or warranted?
The disposition of this case is a matter outside of the authority of Jewish Federation & Family Services. The UCI administration took action according to its charter and its regulations. The Office of the DA has taken action according to its reading of the Constitution and the laws of the State of California.
We believe that the actions of both the UCI administration and the District Attorney send a strong message to this community — indeed to all communities — that civility must be safeguarded. We recognize that colleges and universities have always been environments in which difficult (and sometimes confrontational) dialogues take place. Yet we also believe that if planned, rogue disruptions are allowed to continue without consequences, we will have accomplished nothing despite our best efforts.
Consider this: At no point in this year-long process has the MSU, its students, attorneys or representatives acknowledged any wrongdoing. In fact, they have continued to deny it. There have been no statements of apology or contrition. Not once has there been an effort, on their part, to reach out and say “We’re sorry. We blew it. We’ll do it differently next time. Let’s talk.”
Consider this as well: What happened at UCI last February is happening around the country as part of an organized “BDS” (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement against the legitimacy of Israel and self-determination of the Jewish people.
We say: let this be a teachable moment for all of us! While the legal process takes its course, let us think about how we can pursue actions for positive change and an improved campus climate. How we can bring more partners together – both Jews and people of other faiths – to strengthen and improve the student experience at UCI?
The role we play, as community catalyst and convener, is that of bridge-builder. We seek to build bridges of interfaith understanding, collaboration and respect, on campus and in the community. Bridges are built when people of differing viewpoints come together in an atmosphere of mutual respect. When civility is lacking on one side, the bridge crosses only half the river, and we remain apart.
Shalom C. Elcott
President and Chief Executive Officer
Jewish Federation & Family Services
4 Comments »