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Academic Freedom at UCLA

UCLA is a public institution with core values of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas on its campus. These principles have always been the pillars of university life, though adhering to them has not been without occasional controversy.

Such was the case recently when the Center for Near Eastern Studies organized a panel titled "Human Rights and Gaza." The conflict in the Middle East and current events in Gaza are some of the most highly controversial issues of our time, stirring deep emotions on all sides. Many people have contacted me — and some have even written news articles — to express profound disappointment over what they believe was the panel's unbalanced presentation and a lack of decorum during the question-and-answer period.

The UCLA campus, with its diverse population and many points of view, is one of the most invigorating intellectual campuses in the world, and the university strives overall for scholarly balance. For example, a week after this panel, Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan spoke at the law school and offered a very different perspective on the conflict. The newly appointed Israeli representative to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev, spoke to students here in November. Former diplomat and former member of the Israeli parliament Zeidan Atashi is scheduled to speak here later this month.

I believe that the university must always give wide latitude to individual expression and to our entire faculty, whose job it is to educate and enlighten. Importantly, we are training students to think critically and to be responsible citizens. Our students must hear diverse viewpoints, if only to sharpen their own thought processes and strengthen their arguments. I also believe that this kind of learning occurs best when views and debates are conducted with decorum. Civil discourse is essential to the intellectual climate at UCLA, and we all should strive for respectful discussions.   

We have a responsibility to protect the freedom of expression. We also all have a responsibility to listen and engage — respectfully — even as we must understand that not every campus forum on a controversial topic will satisfy passionate and concerned members of the campus and broader communities.

Two weeks ago, I participated in the dedication of the UCLA "Peace Pole," one of the first such monuments established on a university campus. It is fitting for such an event to occur here, at an institution comprised of people from many cultures in a truly international city. I was moved by the commitment of our students to work together in reasoned and respectful ways. The event highlighted the best that we can be as a community. I was justifiably proud to be part of UCLA.

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