Don’t Agree With The Law? No Problem – Just Ignore It.

Advisers to student newspapers, on both the high school and college level, sometimes lose their jobs for backing student journalists who report stories displeasing to school administrators. Or under the implied threat of being fired, faculty advisers may steer the journalists in a direction the administration wants them to go. So the California legislature overwhelmingly passed a free-speech bill, prohibiting a college or school district from firing, suspending or otherwise retaliating against a school employee for acting to protect free expression by student journalists. But the University of California system opposes the measure, and has informed the legislature that if it is signed by Governor Schwarzenegger, the system does not intend to obey the new law.

A letter from a UC lobbyist to State Sen. Leland Yee, sponsor of the legislation, argued that the law would impinge on the system’s ability to punish faculty members who teach inappropriate material in class or who promote their opinions unrelated to subject matter in class. An aide to Yee says that fear is farfetched. Even if it isn’t, the arrogance of an announcement by a string of public universities to ignore the law is astonishing.

But in California there is ample precedent for this. When Prop. 209 passed in 1996, forbidding preferences in state employment, education and contracting, agencies and cities around the state resolved to defy or ignore the law. San Jose’s race-based contracting plan, later declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court, ran in open defiance of the law. San Francisco made post-209 plans to expand its quota system to include Arab-Americans and American Indians. Supervisor Amos Brown said: “Proposition 209 is the law but in San Francisco we’re seeking to be creative to make sure there is inclusion.” Translation: we’ll subvert the law somehow.

Bill Lockyer, the state attorney general, defended the city of San Jose, the state lottery and the state treasurer against charges they were violating 209. Lockyer’s own department continued to set goals and timetable for hiring of women and minorities because Lockyer, who was supposed to be enforcing 209, said he thought federal anti-discrimination law mandated it.

John Leo

John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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