Should state universities have official positions on whether the Constitution should be interpreted to protect abortion?


President of the University of California thinks:

University of California President Michael V. Drake, MD, today (June 24) released the following statement regarding the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization:

For nearly 50 years, citizens of the United States have had the right to make private and informed choices about their health care and their future. I am deeply concerned that today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court takes away that right and will put lives across the country at risk. The decision overturns decades of legal precedent and could pave the way for the removal of other fundamental rights.

The Court’s decision is contrary to the mission and values ​​of the University of California. We strongly support enabling individuals to access evidence-based health care services and to make decisions about their own care in consultation with their medical team. Despite this court ruling, we will continue to provide the full range of health care options possible in California, including reproductive health services, and to strongly advocate for the needs of our patients, students, staff, and the communities that we serve. We will also continue to provide comprehensive education and training to the next generation of health care providers and conduct lifesaving research wherever possible.

This is a sobering moment for many of us at the University of California and across the country. Today, we support 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.

I don’t think the “mission and values” of a public university should be to promote a reading of the Constitution as guaranteeing the right to abortion, or as not guaranteeing the right to abortion, as opposed to promoting research on this and related issues. And of course a public university that runs hospitals should generally perform legal medical procedures and train a doctor in legal medical procedures, I don’t think that justifies the university taking a position on whether that legality is determined by state legislatures or Supreme Court Justices.

This is particularly the case when, as the UCLA Chancellor’s Follow-up Letter emphasizes: “The decision is not should affect women’s reproductive rights in California,” so UC doesn’t even have much vested interest in the outcome of Dobbs because it affects its own operations. (There may be more room for statements by a public university president regarding policy decisions that directly affect university operations, such as changes in funding, statutes related to student admissions, etc.)

More generally, I tend to agree with Declaration of 1970 by the Office of the President of the CU:

There are both pedagogical and legal reasons why the University should remain politically neutral. Educationally, the pursuit of truth and knowledge is only possible in an atmosphere of freedom, and if the University were to renounce 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 from and free from political or sectarian influence in the appointment of its Regents and in the administration of his business…”

I’m not sure that from a legal standpoint this extends beyond advocacy related to candidates or ballot measures; but I think that, politically, he advises the administration against taking a position on such questions. (Note that the President should be able to speak in a personal capacity, but of course his letter was important precisely because it was a letter written as President of UC, not just as a citizen or scholar.) Likewise, I agree with the 1967 Kalven committee report from the University of Chicago:

A university has an important and unique role to play in fostering the development of social and political values ​​in a society. The role is defined by the distinctive mission of the university and also defined by the distinctive characteristics of the university as a community. It’s a long-term role.

The mission of the university is the discovery, improvement and dissemination of knowledge. Its area of ​​investigation and examination includes all aspects and values ​​of society. A university true to its mission will provide lasting challenges to society
values, policies, practices and institutions. By design and by effect, it is the institution that creates dissatisfaction with existing social systems and proposes new ones. In short, a good university, like Socrates, will be overwhelming.

The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or individual student. The university is the home and godfather of criticism; he himself is not the critic. It is, to use once again the classic expression, a community of scholars. To fulfill its mission in society, a university must maintain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain independence from political fads, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must welcome, accommodate and encourage the greatest diversity of viewpoints within its own community. It is a community, but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It’s not a club, it’s not a trade association, it’s not a lobby.

Since the university is a community only for these limited and distinct purposes, it is a community that cannot act collectively on current issues without jeopardizing the conditions of its existence and its effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can achieve a collective position without hampering that full freedom of dissent upon which it feeds. It cannot require all of its members to favor a given vision of social policy; if he engages in collective action, he does so at the cost of censure of any minority that does not agree with the opinion adopted. In short, it is a community that cannot use majority voting to take a stand on public issues.

Professor Leslie Johns of the Department of Political Science also sent me a copy of an email she sent to the Chancellor of UCLA, and when I asked her permission to publish it, she graciously agreed. :

As a UCLA faculty member for 14 years, I was deeply distressed by your email today titled “Reaffirm UCLA’s Commitment to Women’s Reproductive Rights.”

As a faculty member of the Department of Political Science and the School of Law, I feel compelled to remind you that Americans (and even Californians) have diverse and complicated views on the issue of abortion. . The legal issues involved in the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling cannot simply be reduced to a statement about restrictions on “women’s reproductive rights.”

Abortion is not just a matter of access to health care. It is a complex moral and political issue that involves balancing fundamental rights to life and physical autonomy. By denying this reality, you are asserting a political position. Yet your job as a civil servant explicitly prohibits you from using your office for political purposes. It is both inappropriate and illegal for you (and me) to use our official capacity to assert that specific abortion policies or constitutional interpretations are “antithetical to the mission and values ​​of the University of California”. .

Given UCLA’s stated commitment to “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” I respectfully ask that you carefully consider the implications of declaring a conservative viewpoint “antithetical to the mission and values ​​of the University of California”.

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