Tapings OK for UCI talks

Policy changes to allow recording of student groups’ events. Some say that previous speakers have spewed hate speech.

UC Irvine’s policy to let student organizations decide whether they will allow the recording of meetings and speakers on campus will change, UCI officials said Thursday. Instead, the university will support the right to record speakers and meetings held on campus.

The issue has surfaced in recent years as the campus has struggled with complaints about controversial speakers. It came to a head in May when Newport Beach Assemblyman Chuck DeVore brought a video camera to record a speaker sponsored by the Muslim Student Union. The organization had posted signs requesting no videotaping, but the group did not try to stop DeVore from using his video camera.

It shouldn’t have been an issue since student organizations and the university may not regulate free speech when activities are held on a public campus, Terry Francke, the general counsel for the nonprofit free-speech advocacy group Californians Aware, said in May.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that at least a change in policy regarding recording events will at least turn down the temperature at UCI by letting people know who intend to participate in incendiary hate speech they will be held accountable,” DeVore said.

“We all along here have been dedicated to the idea that students should have freedom of expression,” university spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon said. “We abhor anything that might appear as hate speech or anti-Semitism. But we stand by people’s rights to say it because as a campus we have to stand for a free exchange of ideas.”

Jesse Rosenblum, chairman of an independent task force investigating anti-Semitism at UCI, said he was most concerned about the hate speech that might take place in private meetings student organizations have on campus.

The Hillel Foundation assembled the task force, but dropped the investigation; the task force, however, decided to continue the review on its own.

Critical and radical views are acceptable in a public forum, Rosenblum said. But a university-sanctioned meeting on campus property where recordings are prohibited and opposing views are shut down is detrimental to a university’s mission, he said. The private hate speech on campus is one of the task force’s main focuses, he added.

“If they want to continue with [the inquiry] that’s fine,” said Mayra Bangee, vice president of the UCI Muslim Student Union. “They don’t really have legitimacy if they’ve lost the support of Hillel.”

DeVore disagrees.

“Clearly they’re not empowered by a grand jury or anything, but neither were they when they were with Hillel,” said DeVore, who was interviewed by the task force. He said the public should gauge the report’s influence by who was involved in it, who was interviewed for it and how the investigation was conducted.

“They certainly weren’t leading the witness when I spoke to them,” DeVore said. “They would ask me a question, reword it and ask it again to really get to the truth.

“[Chancellor Michael Drake] has always been interested in communicating and listening to the community. I’m sure he would be open to listening to anything they have to say.”

“We’re basically standing by what we’ve said in the past. We think that this is an attempt to shut down free speech and is an intimidation tactic,” Bangee said. She acknowledged that the task force has contacted her for an interview, but has yet to respond.

“I don’t see anti-Semitism on campus, and I don’t see myself being a part of [the investigation]. I think its a very tolerant environment,” she said.

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