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Statements Regarding Public Comments Made by a Tenured Member of Faculty

By News and Media Relations on March 28, 2019 in University

Chancellor Gary S. May sent the following letter today (March 28) to Assemblymember James Gallagher: 

Dear Assemblymember Gallagher:

I am writing as a follow-up to my letter of March 4, 2019, regarding your concerns about the public statements made by Professor Joshua Clover that have been the subject of recent news reports. In response to the concerns voiced by you and other members of the community, I asked the campus’s academic personnel team to consider whether his statements could be subject to review under the University of California’s Faculty Code of Conduct (APM 015).

As you know, the UC Davis administration condemns the statements made by Professor Clover on Twitter in 2014 and in an interview published on September 17, 2015, and January 31, 2017. These statements do not reflect our institutional valuesWe respect and support law enforcement and believe that the UC Davis Police Department officers and staff and Chief Joe Farrow are critical partners with our entire academic community.

The university has carefully considered the matter and consulted with legal counsel for a formal opinion as to whether the statements made by Professor Clover may be subject to discipline or whether the statements are protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 2, of the California Constitution. Both the US and California constitutions protect the speech of public university employees if the speech addresses matters of public concern and the university’s interests as an employer do not outweigh the employees’ interest in speaking.

Professor Clover’s statements, although offensive and abhorrent, do not meet the legal requirement for “true threats” that might exempt them from First Amendment protection. UC Davis places a high value on civility in the academic community, but the desire to promote these values does not outweigh the rights of professors to express themselves on political issues, even if their expression is deeply repellent to members of our community and the public.

In addition to existing state and federal constitutional requirements, the university is subject to President Trump’s March 22, 2019, executive order directing federal agencies to take steps to ensure that institutions receiving federal research or education grants promote free inquiry in a manner consistent with applicable law, including the First Amendment. Failure to protect the First Amendment rights of university faculty could not only lead to legal consequences for violating the Constitution, but also could result in a loss of federal funding which is critical to the university’s research and teaching mission. Accordingly, the university will not proceed with review or investigation of concerns regarding Professor Clover’s public statements.

I understand this may not be the outcome you seek, but I appreciate your willingness to share your views on this matter with the university administration very much. I assure you we will continue our efforts to make the campus a productive working and learning environment in support of our mission to serve society through discovering and advancing knowledge.

Best regards,

Gary S. May
Chancellor


UC Davis released the following statement March 4:

In January 2019, Provost Ralph J. Hexter provided the statement below to The California Aggie in response to an inquiry about statements made by Professor Joshua Clover in 2014-16:

“The UC Davis administration condemns the statement of Professor Clover to which you refer. It does not reflect our institutional values, and we find it unconscionable that anyone would condone much less appear to advocate murder. A young police officer was killed serving the city of Davis. We mourn her loss and express our gratitude to all who risk their lives protecting us. We support law enforcement, and the UC Davis Police Department and Chief Joe Farrow have been and remain critical partners to our community.”

Since then, continued interest from the broader public requires further clarification. Members of the public have been questioning why this professor continues to be employed at UC Davis.

Only the UC Board of Regents can dismiss a tenured faculty member. This must be done by a vote of the board upon recommendation by the University of California president, following consultation with the chancellor and the Academic Senate. According to the bylaws of the Academic Senate, a faculty member is entitled to a hearing before a panel of Academic Senate members before any discipline is imposed.

UC Davis has specific procedures for the review of complaints of faculty misconduct consistent with universitywide policies and bylaws. The status of complaints lodged against faculty members are confidential personnel matters, so we are unable to publicly comment on the action steps we are taking at this time.

The public expression of opinions, even those opinions considered controversial or abhorrent, enjoy a high level of protection under the First Amendment, and tenured faculty at the University of California enjoy significant employment protections, particularly around their speech. UC Davis is carefully reviewing this to ensure our response to the matter is consistent with universitywide policy and state and federal constitutional protections.

In the meantime, Chancellor Gary S. May has asked the campus legal team to review the professor’s conduct and provide advice on the application of federal and state constitutional protections for freedom of expression.  

We understand that this approach may sound less than satisfactory to some, but we are working very hard to address this matter. We will provide updates to the extent possible as appropriate.

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