University of California President Michael V. Drake, M.D., made the following remarks today (Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023) at the UC Board of Regents meeting about new initiatives the University will pursue to support students, enhance campus safety, and improve the climate on campus in light of recent events in Israel and Gaza. The remarks follow a letter issued by President Drake and the 10 UC chancellors to the community last week that underscored a shared commitment to providing an educational environment free of discrimination, intolerance, and intimidation.
Thank you, Chair Leib.
The intense violence in the Middle East has left many thousands dead, injured, and many millions traumatized. The human price has continued to grow. The incalculable suffering we see and read about has affected people around the world. It has spread into communities everywhere, including our own campuses – as we heard so clearly during public comment. I appreciate hearing from members of our community – I know sharing your thoughts and feelings on this topic publicly is not an easy task and can come with risk.
Over these past several weeks, the Chancellors, other university leaders, and I have heard from many people – members of the UC family and others – expressing anger, fear, frustration, horror, and sadness about how they see this conflict playing out on our campuses. The Chancellors and I have repeatedly urged members of the UC community to approach one another with empathy and tolerance; to seek out opportunities to listen even when they disagree passionately; to learn and to try to understand each other; and to uphold our community values that promote free and nonviolent expression.
Still, many of our students, faculty, and staff are suffering right here at home. Some feel unsafe leaving their dorm rooms. Some worry about what they can and cannot say in their classrooms. Some feel helpless and unsure about how to navigate this complex situation in class or at work. Some have been doxxed for using their voices, and some have faced outright violence. They are fearful, they are vulnerable, and they have asked for our help.
As university leaders, we cannot solve the deep and long-lasting issues that resulted in the horrific violence we saw in Israel six weeks ago and the devastation we are seeing in Gaza. But we have an important role to play as an educational institution. We owe it to all to do what we can to create a safe and welcoming living, learning, and working environment, and to create educational spaces where we can all find factual information, guidance, support, and practical tools to better understand and respond to what is happening around us.
Last week, the Chancellors and I released a joint statement condemning the alarming acts of bigotry, intolerance, and intimidation that we have seen on our campuses over the last several weeks. But we recognize that words alone are not enough. And that is why today we are announcing that the University of California will take several steps to address this:
First, I have asked Jody Stiger, the University’s Systemwide Director of Community Safety, to convene his campus counterparts and to ensure that we are responding appropriately to incidents of violence on our campuses. The safety of our community is of paramount concern, and we will continue to do all that we can to ensure that students, staff, faculty, and visitors are safe on our campuses.
Second, we’re announcing the creation of a Systemwide Office of Civil Rights at the UC Office of the President. This new umbrella office will provide guidance and support on issues related to protecting civil rights at our 10 campuses, our medical centers, our national labs, and the Office of the President. It will encompass the existing systemwide Title IX Office, a new systemwide Anti-Discrimination Office, and a new systemwide Disability Rights Office. The launch of the Systemwide Office of Civil Rights has been in the works since last year – the result of feedback from the UC community and the recommendation of a systemwide working group that has been dedicated to developing the University’s Anti-Discrimination Policy. We are currently hiring senior staff, and the office will be up and running this spring. Today, we are working actively to improve mechanisms for responding to discrimination and harassment allegations across the University – including anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate. Members of the UC community who wish to report such incidents now can continue to do so through local campus channels or through the University’s systemwide Whistleblower Hotline.
And lastly, today we are also announcing that we will dedicate $7 million from my office’s budget to provide our campuses with funding in three specific areas:
- First, at the request of our campus communities, we will provide $3 million to bring in emergency mental health resources for our students, faculty, and staff who may be struggling with recent events or with the climate on their campus.
- Second, we will dedicate $2 million to help develop educational programs at each UC campus that will help inform and improve the public discourse on this issue. This will include programs focused on better understanding anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, how to recognize and combat extremism, and a viewpoint-neutral history of the Middle East.
- We will also then devote another $2 million to train our own leadership, staff, and faculty who are seeking guidance on how to navigate their roles as educators in this space. This programming will focus on areas such as freedom of expression; academic freedom; diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging; and other key functions of higher education administration as they intersect with this conflict. The goal is to ensure that UC leaders and educators are equipped with the knowledge they need to respond when issues arise and that our university policies are supportive, preventative, and viewpoint-neutral.
The war in Israel and Gaza presents a complex set of intersecting issues that require multiple solutions on multiple fronts. Today we are doubling down on who we are: an educational institution that’s guided by facts and data, but also a moral compass that helps us find our way to compassion and understanding in difficult moments. Members of my leadership team will immediately begin to work with campuses to implement these steps, and we will keep the board updated on our progress.
Thank you, Chair Leib, that concludes my remarks.