I happen to be one of those who favored the Roe v. Wade decision; in fact, I’d go farther than the judges in that one by extending the term limits for abortion. Ergo, I think that Dobbs was a bad decision and that some way must be found around it. All American women who want an abortion should be able to get one without having to travel to other states.
This is my personal view, though I know many others disagree. Universities, in particular, which are supposed to serve as venues for debate, should not take official positions on such issues, as that chills or squelches the speech of faculty, staff, and students who disagree with those positions but fear reprisals if they disagree publicly.
This is why we have the Kalven Report at the University of Chicago, and, given my many posts on it, you should be familiar with it by now. Let me just quote a bit of that short report, which is one of our two pillars of free speech at the University of Chicago (the other is The Chicago Principles of Free Expression). I do recommend reading the short Kalven Report in its entirety, but here’s the most-quoted bit (emphasis is mine):
The mission of the university is the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge. Its domain of inquiry and scrutiny includes all aspects and all values of society. A university faithful to its mission will provide enduring challenges to social values, policies, practices, and institutions. By design and by effect, it is the institution which creates discontent with the existing social arrangements and proposes new ones. In brief, a good university, like Socrates, will be upsetting.
The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.
The University of Chicago does not issue official statements about ideology, politics, or morality unless some aspect of society “threaten[s] the very mission of the university and its values of free inquiry. In such a crisis, it becomes the obligation of the university as an institution to oppose such measures and actively to defend its interests and its values.” But these “aspects” are only ones bearing on the “discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge” within the institution.
The Dobbs decision is not such an aspect. Sure, you can stretch nearly every issue into one that “threatens the mission of the university”, but we have a high bar for that, and the University does not—or is not supposed to—issue statements about issues like war, apartheid, abortion, guns, Palestine vs. Israel, and so on. (There have been violations here, and some of us are working on those).
The University of California, on the other hand, takes the opposite position, going full tilt by issuing statements about nearly every sociopolitical issue. These can come from either the UC administration or departments of various campuses. All of them should be taken down.
On June 24, the President of the University of California system, Michael Drake, took it upon himself to criticize the Dobbs decision of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. His statement, as you see, is labeled as being a “UC statement” (University of California), not his personal opinion. It is thus the opinion of a huge and powerful educational institution, and a public institution.
Drake oversees the entire UC system; as his webpage notes:
Dr. Michael V. Drake is the 21st president of the University of California. He oversees UC’s world-renowned university system of 10 campuses, five medical centers, three nationally affiliated labs, more than 280,000 students and 230,000 faculty and staff.
Is he speaking for all of them in his statement? Click on the screenshot below:
The statement is short, and I reproduce it in its entirety:
For nearly 50 years, people in the United States have had the right to make private, informed choices about their health care and their futures. I am gravely concerned that today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision removes that right and will endanger lives across the country. This decision overturns decades of legal precedent and could pave the way for other fundamental rights to be removed.
The Court’s decision is antithetical to the University of California’s mission and values. We strongly support allowing individuals to access evidence-based health care services and to make decisions about their own care in consultation with their medical team. Despite this decision by the Court, we will continue to provide the full range of health care options possible in California, including reproductive health services, and to steadfastly advocate for the needs of our patients, students, staff, and the communities we serve. We will also continue to offer comprehensive education and training to the next generation of health care providers, and to conduct life-saving research to the fullest extent possible.
This is a sobering moment for many of us at the University of California and throughout the nation. Today, we stand with California leaders and health care advocates who are taking critical steps to protect Californians’ human rights and their access to affordable and convenient health care choices.
As you see, he says that Dobbs decision is “antithetical to the University of California’s mission and values”. But where in its mission and values does it mention that its values include “access to evidence-based health care services”? That is a policy, not the mission of the University of California. And that shows that any social event, law, or policy can be stretched to warrant damnation by the University of California.
But what about those half a million students, faculty, and staff? Do they agree with what President Drake said? I doubt it. Dobbs is now the law of the land, but California permits abortions, and may, this fall, add a clause to the state’s constitution protecting the right to abortion. Good for them! In fact, Drake didn’t have to say anything, for his University and his state (and UC hospitals) already allow abortion. What he’s doing here is giving official condemnation to the Dobbs verdict without having to do anything about it (he can’t; it’s the law for the time being). The statement represents another case of performative wokeness that shows Drake’s virtue—but at the cost of repressing the speech of those who are “pro-life”. (I hate to write that term, preferring “anti-abortion”).
And Drake could do this for nearly everything, though of course so long as the Left is ascendant at his University, his statements will always be pro-Left. Another state’s University system could issue a completely different statement: one approving Dobbs and damning Roe v. Wade.
But the point is that none of this has anything to do with the mission of a university. Drake and others could write as individuals, but they should never write as if they represent everybody involved with the University of California. (Of course were I Drake, I’d keep pretty much to myself, like a judge, because he has professional cachet even when writing as an individual. But that is his choice.)
Eugene Volokh, writing at his site “The Volokh Conspiracy” at Reason, agrees with me. Click the screenshot to see his take:
Volokh adheres to our Kalven Report and even quotes it, but you can read that for yourself. Here’s his take on Drake, and I heartily agree:
I don’t think that a public university’s “mission and values” should be to promote a reading of the Constitution as securing abortion rights, or as not securing abortion rights, as opposed to promoting research on this and related questions. And while of course a public university that runs hospitals should generally perform legal medical procedures, and train doctors with regard to legal medical procedures, I don’t think that justifies the university taking a stand on whether such legality is determined by state legislatures or by Supreme Court Justices.
That’s especially so when, as the UCLA Chancellor’s follow-up letter points out, “The decision is not expected to affect women’s reproductive rights in California,” so UC doesn’t even have much of a direct interest in the outcome of Dobbs as it affects its own operations. (There may be more room for statements by a public university president as to political decisions that do directly affect the operations of the university, such as changes in funding, statutes related to student admissions, and the like.)
It turns out that the University of California has its own version of a Kalven Principle, issued in 1970. Volokh quotes it:
More broadly, I tend to agree with the 1970 statement by the Office of the UC President:
There are both educational and legal reasons why the University must remain politically neutral. Educationally, the pursuit of truth and knowledge is only possible in an atmosphere of freedom, and if the University were to surrender its neutrality, it would jeopardize its freedom. Legally, Article IX, section 9, of the State Constitution provides in part that “The University shall be entirely independent of all political or sectarian influence and kept free therefrom in the appointment of its regents and in the administration of its affairs…”
And yet here we see Drake violating the very principles of his own university system!
Volokh then points to the Kalven Report, including the famous excerpt I put above, and then reproduces an email written by Professor Leslie Johns of UCLA’s political science department to the UCLA chancellor—an email that includes this:
Abortion is not a simple matter of access to health care. It is a complex moral and political question that involves balancing fundamental rights to life and physical autonomy. By denying this reality, you are asserting a political position. Yet your employment as a public employee explicitly prohibits you from using your office for political purposes. It is both inappropriate and illegal for you (and for me) to use our official capacity to make claims that specific abortion policies or constitutional interpretations are “antithetical to the University of California’s mission and values.”
In effect, she’s underlining the Kalven Principle that a university should not issue statements that will chill discussion, nor should it issue definitive proclamations on debatable issues. I’m not sure if Drake is, as Johns asserts, doing something illegal by issuing the “UC Statement.” But Kudos to Professor Johns for taking the Chancellor on a trip to the woodshed!
Like freedom of speech itself on campus, the Kalven Principle is always under assault by those who want to control political discourse at universities. It’s a never-ending fight, even at the University of Chicago which, like the University of California, professes political and ideological neutrality—but doesn’t hesitate to violate it when it professors or administrators want to flaunt their virtue.