Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak issued both an explanation and an apology for public concern generated by a recent UCCS faculty email to the University of Colorado Board of Regents Sept. 9.
In the opening of her host campus report, Shockley-Zalabak addressed with the Regents concerns about a faculty email to students enrolled in an online Humanities 3990 section. An enrolled student shared the email with a student journalist writing for a website, raising concerns censorship occurred and implying faculty were unwilling to discuss opposing viewpoints.
In her comments, Shockley-Zalabak outlined the steps taken to evaluate the media report and her conclusions about the faculty’s actions. A partial transcript of her comments, and those of the members of the Board of Regents, follows. To see a full statement from the chancellor, click here. At the conclusion of their comments, the members of the Board of Regents voted unanimously to reaffirm the principles of Article 5D of the CU Board of Regents regarding academic freedom.
I want to make very clear both to the public and to the CU Board of regents that UCCS does not condone censorship of any sort. As the chancellor, I promptly address any allegations of censorship whether they concern faculty, staff or students. I want to be responsive to the Regents, to public officials and, of course, to the public in general. One of the things important to note is that Humanities 3990 is not a course about climate change. The full course title is: Medical Humanities in the Digital Age. It is an elective course which fulfills requirements that are important for upper-division students. The course objectives are to define medical humanities as a discipline in its constitutive parts of narrative medicine, history of medicine and medical ethics. The majority of the students enrolled in the course are pre-medicine, nursing and health science students. The initial characterization by a student reporter in an online publication and elsewhere did not adequately represent the context of Humanities 3990 and used wording that led some readers to assume a form of censorship was taking place.
I have thoroughly looked into this situation with the assistance of Vice President and University Counsel Patrick O’Rourke. The provost and I met with the course faculty, the dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the director for the humanities program, and the chairs of individual faculty departments. I consulted with Vice President O’Rourke about potential legal and policy violations relative to the email sent from the faculty. Vice President O’Rourke investigated and confirmed no policy or legal violations occurred. We both concluded that the rhetorical statements in the email were subject to misunderstanding and perceptions of censorship. I also concluded that there were no policy or legal violations and that limiting debate on topics that are not relative to the subject matter of a course is appropriate. This is particularly true when it is an online course where the online debate entries, regardless of the topic area, are part of the graded assignments for a writing intensive course…..I am issuing an apology for the public concern that this has generated and want to assure the Board of Regents and others that UCCS continuously supports the highest of intellectual standards and academic freedom and freedom of expression are the forefront of the universities commitment as a community.
In response to Shockley-Zalabak’s report, members of the Board of Regents responded.
Regent John Carson:
Chancellor, thank you for that information. I think it was very important to get out to the community what has gone on here. I want to commend you for your work in this matter as chancellor. You have been very responsive to us and to the public and to elected officials. I very much appreciate that and think it reflects our university’s commitment to diversity and dialog. I realize there are a lot of details in this matter. I think you’ve explained those. I don’t think we need to dwell on them a whole lot more other than to observe that this is a teaching moment for the university and for our state. I’ve certainly heard a lot of feedback from constituents and concerns about it. This has been out there in the media. As you said, academic freedom is obviously very important. It is very important that faculty feel that they have the right to teach as they see fit. But it is also important that we respect students. I want to read from the Laws of the Regents, our principles, which I think provide a very nice counter balance to just looking at the faculty.
Academic freedom does not rest solely in the faculty. The Laws of the Regents also require that students likewise must have freedom of study and discussion. Ultimately the Laws of the Regents vest all members of the academic community with a responsibility to protect the university as a forum for the free expression of ideas with the understanding that the fullest exposure to conflicting opinions is the best insurance against error. Consequently the Laws of the Regents anticipate that students have an interest in academic freedom and the right to weigh conflicting opinions and determine for themselves the conclusions that they will reach in a particular field.
This particular episode was handled properly and got the message out to the community that we uphold the rights of debate and dialog in the classroom. I know going forward that the University of Colorado will continue to uphold those principles under President Benson’s leadership and under your leadership at UCCS.
Regent Sue Sharkey:
Chancellor Shockley, I will reaffirm what Regent Carson just said. Thank you for your expedience in your response to the regents when we reached out to you with our concerns. I hardly had my feet on the ground that morning when the story came out when I started getting contacts from constituents. There has been widespread concern. I appreciate that you are acknowledging that this email was not communicated well. I’m sure the faculty members involved understand now how important good communication is. It has certainly been a distraction to you and to this campus. Academic freedom is obviously something that we all believe in and support strongly and the freedom of speech as well. You have made that absolutely clear in your leadership on this campus. That comes from you and all of our chancellors and the president of the University of Colorado and the Board of Regents. We all believe in the free debate and exchange of ideas. That’s what education is all about. I want to thank you for your efforts and how you handled this.
Regent Irene Griego:
I, too, want to thank you so much for your clarification regarding this issue. I also want to thank for your concerted effort regarding diversity, freedom of thought and representing all people. I was very fortunate not too long ago to meet with more than 100 staff and faculty. I was so impressed with the enthusiasm and attitude that people have at this university regarding the importance of listening to all people and to not be judgmental and believing in the freedom of speech. That’s not only believing in the freedom of speech but trying to understand it. That was what our conversation was about, seeking to understand the perspectives of each other. I have full confidence in where this university is at and in the work that has been done and in your proactive work toward getting to that place. It has been unfortunate that this happened but we learned. The clarification is very, very helpful. I encourage you to keep moving on in your positive direction toward honoring people. I have to say that all of our campuses do all that they can to be able to ensure that all people are respected and there is equality among ourselves and the way we think. Thanks to the other chancellors, too, for the fine work you do at the other universities.
Regent Steve Bosley:
Chancellor, I’m certainly satisfied with your thorough analysis and explanation and the conclusion of poor judgement and shoddy communication. It is unfortunate that this has happened and caused this attention.
Regent Glen Gallegos:
Chancellor Shockley-Zalabak, thank you as well for jumping on this and getting us to where we are today. I think we still have some work to do with our public. Our public reacted and maybe even overreacted to what was going here. So we may still have some work to do in letting them know nothing out of the ordinary happened and that you have investigated. I don’t want people to think this issue is over. The public needs to be aware. The Board of Regents four years ago passed a proclamation on diversity. We have been dealing with diversity as a Board of Regents and have been very clear about the respect that we want people to have on our campuses. I would reiterate that it is still very important to this Board of Regents and we’ve a good job in leading that direction. I hope that people are taking notice in the state and the nation on how we do our business. Thank you for all you have done.