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California university gets pushback on new ‘principles of community’

Principles can’t actually be enforced, school official says

Officials at California State University, Fresno, recently released a set of “principles” meant to reflect the school’s “core values of Discovery, Diversity and Distinction” and its “deep commitment…to boldly educate and empower students for success.” The policies have received some public pushback, however, and the school itself will not enforce them.

The “Principles of Community” outlined on the school’s webpage includes suggestions that university community members be “respectful,” “kind,” “collaborative” and “accountable.”

Among the document’s various suggestions: “Listen with attention to all perspectives with the intent to understand,” “Acknowledge the contributions of others,” and “Share honest, meaningful feedback in a timely manner and receive feedback with an open mind.”

“These Principles were developed collaboratively by faculty, staff and administrators and exemplify what we can and should be,” the document reads.

The list of principles has not been met without some criticism. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, Chair of the American Association of University Professors’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure Henry Reichman said that such documents are sometimes “used to justify censorship and conformity.”

A member of a campus watchdog group was similarly unimpressed by the proposals, Higher Ed reports:

Adam Steinbaugh, director of the Individual Rights Defense program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, is among those who have publicly criticized the draft. He said via email that Fresno State’s principles “urge that people should ‘clearly communicate expectations,’ which is good advice.” But the draft itself “falls short of that goal,” he said, “leaving unclear whether the ‘principles’ are merely aspirational goals or instead enforceable in some manner. They’re almost certainly aspirational, as the principles are far too vague and subjective to be enforced without violating the First Amendment, but any chilling effect could be mitigated by clearly stating that they’re goals, not rules.”

Several university officials affirmed that the document is not enforceable and instead is, as one faculty senate member put it, “an aspirational document, not a policy.”

(According to Higher Ed, Henry Reichman asked: “How will people be held accountable if these are just unenforceable guidelines? At minimum far greater clarity is needed.”)

California State University, Fresno, is no stranger to academic controversies. An English professor there, Randa Jarrar, last year publicly celebrated the death of Barbara Bush, also adding that she “can’t wait for the rest of [the Bush family]” to die. The Bush family includes children as young as three years old.

Shortly after expressing a desire for the death of the Bush family, Jarrar also tweeted out a racist rant against white people, claiming that the “literary community must DEMAND that white editors resign.”

Read the draft guidelines here, and Higher Ed’s report here.

MORE: Fresno State donations in jeopardy after prof’s hate-filled Barbara Bush rants

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