UCLA Chancellor: On antisemitism, I seek a place of common purpose with Congress


UCLA Chancellor: On antisemitism, I seek a place of common purpose with Congress

When I testify before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce this morning about the rise of antisemitism on college campuses, I expect members of Congress to challenge how UCLA has responded. As with so many universities across the country today, ours has not been immune to a troubling increase in bigotry, harassment and hostility.

As UCLA’s chancellor, I welcome the committee members’ questions, even if I won’t have all the answers. I don’t think any university leader does. The rise in incidents of legally protected, but hateful speech — whether antisemitic, Islamophobic, anti-Arab or otherwise – underscores the fundamental tension that can come about when an institution is committed to both safeguarding free expression under the First Amendment and preventing discrimination that violates the law.

But as public servants, we must figure out how to better address this rise in hate.

As a Jewish man who grew up in post-war New York with relatives who were Holocaust survivors and victims, I’ve confronted the consequences of unchecked bigotry and I have been repulsed by the recent rise in egregious conduct that I never expected to see on the campus I have called home for 17 years. Only six years ago, the prominent Jewish publication Forward declared UCLA third among the “Best Colleges for Jewish Life.” I am pained to say that recently, too many Jewish students have felt unsafe.

While the Congressional committee members are likely to focus on areas where they believe UCLA has failed, I plan on telling them the decisive steps we are taking to balance our commitment to free speech and our obligation to protect our community from harm.

We’ve taken five key steps to address discrimination, shore up campus safety and hold people accountable for breaking the law:

Following the recent violence at UCLA, I have established a new Office of Campus Safety reporting directly to me to streamline and elevate our efforts to maintain order. UCLA is conducting a thorough examination of our security processes. The University of California has also engaged independent law enforcement experts to initiate its own review, including our planning and security protocols.

We are reviewing and modifying our campus policies for events and First Amendment activity to make them easier to enforce consistently, in line with our legal obligations as a public university.

We are initiating a broad-based review to address recent reports of antisemitic and anti-Arab or Islamophobic discrimination and harassment that may have interfered with students’ abilities to access the university’s educational programs and activities. We will retain an outside firm to support our Civil Rights Office’s review of these issues.

Accountability is critical to our ability to move forward. The Office of Campus Safety, in partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department, are continuing criminal investigations into those who perpetrated violence on our campus, in late April.

Finally, we will utilize the experience and expertise of scholars from across our campus to foster greater dialogue and combat antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination. We will focus on building bridges and restoring trust in one another.

UCLA faces complex, interrelated challenges related to protecting free expression rights and protecting students from discrimination and harassment. Last year, I announced that after 17 years as chancellor, I will step down later this summer. In my remaining months, I am dedicated to doing all I can to address these challenges and help shepherd the process of rebuilding the ties within our community.

I look forward to a robust discussion of these issues with members of Congress, and trust they come from a place of common purpose — to put us on a path to ending discrimination of all forms once and for all.

Published on The Sacramento Bee on May 23, 2024.