July 9, 2012
As the newly appointed president of California State University, Northridge, I have already learned much about the great depth and diversity of the campus. This has included becoming familiar with the unique challenges and issues that impact the campus community.
One of these issues is related to the content of a faculty website maintained by Professor David Klein, expressing his personal views about Israel. Many are upset by Dr. Klein’s website and believe he should not be allowed to post his personal views on a public university’s website.
I have reviewed the administrative reviews that were conducted at the request of CSUN’s previous president, President Jolene Koester, when concerns about the website first were raised. The reviews concluded that, because of the traditions of free speech and academic freedom that are a hallmark of our society and of higher education, it was not appropriate to censor Dr. Klein’s comments on the basis of disagreement with his personal views. The reviews further found that the website was not in violation of any CSU or CSUN policies and there was no evidence that the safety or well being of students was compromised as a result of the statements on the website.
More recently, the State of California Office of Attorney General was independently contacted and asked to look into the matter. In a response sent in May 2012 to the organization that made the request, the State Attorney General’s office concluded that it did not find any misuse of the CSU and CSUN names or resources and found no basis for action. The response of the State Attorney General’s office appears to affirm CSUN’s findings in this matter.
I have had an opportunity to personally review Dr. Klein’s website. Let me state in no uncertain terms that I do not agree with Dr. Klein’s positions and, particularly, the manner in which he has chosen to present them. I do not believe that his approach promotes or advances constructive dialogue.
Speech issues can be complex and difficult, particularly when they are put to the test by positions and views with which others may disagree. But the right to express such views, including those in opposition or in the minority, is an important value to higher education and an essential cornerstone of a viable democracy. In response to incidents like this on college campuses, a recent policy statement approved by the Board of Governors of the American Jewish Committee noted that
attempts to bar unacceptable but nonviolent speech, let alone extreme criticism of Israel, rather than expose it to critical examination, suggest that Israel has something to hide. We are confident that Israel’s case can counter its critics. It is our task to ensure Israel’s case gets heard, not that its critics are silenced.
It is for such reasons, despite my own personal views, that I affirm the university’s position in this matter. The university previously found that Dr. Klein’s expression of views and use of university resources were not in violation of university or state policies, a conclusion that has been supported by the university’s general counsel and the State Attorney General. Further, this conclusion was found to be in keeping with the California State University’s Policy on Academic Freedom and Free Speech Rights, as ratified by its Academic Senate. To censor the website would be contrary to the important value of free speech and send the disturbing message that the university is willing to restrict an individual’s right to personal expression due to disagreement with those views.
Dianne F. Harrison, Ph.D.
President, California State University, Northridge