Remarks by Andre Knosen, chair of the Davis Division of the Academic Senate, to the senate's Representative Assembly, on Feb. 24, on recent events impacting our campus community.
As faculty we have made a very deliberate decision to conduct our research and teach students at a leading public university that supports freedom of expression and respects academic freedom.
In August 2014, UC Davis released a Freedom of Expression policy, and its preamble states: “Independent thought and diversity of opinions are the essence of the university, and freedom of expression is necessary for the university to fulfill its mission of producing and disseminating knowledge. Without the ability of its members to freely hear, express and debate different ideas and points of view, the university would lack the culture of free inquiry that lies at the foundation of the academic enterprise. In furtherance of this mission, the university’s Principles of Community aspire to create an environment committed to the highest standards of civility, respect, and decency.” The Davis Division of the Academic Senate stands behind this statement.
It is a fact that various recent events on our campus have led to student groups’ feeling uncomfortable on campus. Students come to the university to learn. The classroom is where we, as faculty, expose students to new ideas. Outside the classroom, our campus is a public square. While traditionally the public square was defined by the physical boundaries of our campus, now, through electronic distribution of information and social media, the public square is no longer local; it has become an international space, and information exchange is virtually instantaneous.
This change in how information is exchanged presents new opportunities and challenges for our faculty. More so than ever, as faculty, we have a collective responsibility to create a productive learning environment to teach students how to engage in constructive dialogues involving challenging topics. And our faculty are doing that.
As an exemplar in this regard, I want to highlight the seminar scheduled 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 4, in the Student Community Room’s multipurpose room. The title of the seminar is “Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: The Anatomy of Twin Hatreds.” The seminar will be presented by students, and co-moderated by professors Susan Miller (professor of history) and Noha Radwan (associate professor of comparative literature). The seminar itself is sponsored by the Cross Cultural Center, Jewish Studies Program and the Middle East/South Asia Studies Program.
The seminar is not purely a response to recent events, it originated from the seminar series (HIS 102x) designated especially for history majors and taught by Professor Susan Miller this winter. The seminar series has been two years in the making and is an outgrowth of the Provost’s Fellowship for Diversity Award that Susan received two years ago. It is such deliberate collaboration among several groups on campus that creates a learning environment in which our students have the opportunity to learn through discussion of important issues impacting the world.
It is important to remind ourselves, as faculty, that we have not only elected to come to a public university where we embrace freedom of speech and academic freedom, we also have made a commitment to a liberal arts education. While all faculty play a role in providing a liberal arts education, in my opinion, the heavy lifting is done by the faculty in the divisions of Social Science, and Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies. I want to personally express my appreciation for the role that you play in creating productive learning environments for our students that complement the important and passionate debates that need to take place in the public square.
Knoesen is a professor of electrical and computer engineering.