UC President Michael V. Drake, M.D., statement on free speech and campus protests at UC Irvine

UC President Michael V. Drake, M.D., issued the following statement today (Thursday, May 16, 2024):

The University of California has a long and proud history of supporting freedom of speech and First Amendment rights. We readily accept our obligation to protect the rights of our students, faculty, staff and visitors to our campuses. The right to protest and demonstrate against policies and practices of governing authorities is among the most important privileges of a democracy. This right is not, however, absolute. We must exercise our rights within the broad confines of the laws and policies we ourselves have established.

On Wednesday afternoon, several dozen protestors at UC Irvine illegally occupied and barricaded entrances and exits to an academic building. This led to the cancellation of classes for the remainder of the day and an advisory to exit all buildings in the vicinity of the protest due to safety concerns. Later that evening, UC Irvine Police, supported by several local public safety agencies, worked to safely clear the building. I support the campus and Chancellor Gillman in taking these steps to restore access to educational facilities for members of our campus community.

The University of California must be as flexible as it can be involving matters of free expression, including expression of viewpoints that some find deeply offensive. But when that expression blocks the ability of students to learn or to express their own viewpoints, when it meaningfully disrupts the functioning of the University, or when it threatens the safety of students, or anyone else, we must act.

There are countless ways to protest lawfully, and UC campuses will work with students, faculty and staff to make space available and do all we can to protect people’s ability to hold these protests and demonstrations. But unlawful protests that violate the rights of our fellow citizens are unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.