Chancellor Response to Humanities Course Reaction

September 16, 2016

With regard to the recent controversy surrounding Humanities 3990, I want to affirm that UCCS does not condone censorship nor will we engage in censorship. UCCS leaders, faculty, and staff are committed to upholding academic freedom for faculty and students and will be responsive to public concerns with regard to discussions of academic freedom, First Amendment rights, and censorship. Principles of free expression are a shared value of the UCCS community.

I have publicly apologized to the University of Colorado Board of Regents and to the public (Regents' meeting, September 9, 2016) for any concerns and distractions this issue has generated.

Humanities 3990 is not a course about the science of climate change. The course topic is Medical Humanities in the Digital Age with topics ranging from plague and pandemic disease to self-diagnosis in the digital age. The course primarily focuses on medical humanities while one week of the course explores fracking and public health. It is an elective course which fulfills the campus-wide Navigate general education requirement that include knowledge-in-action and writing intensive components. The majority of students enrolled in the course are pre-med, nursing, and health science students.

The characterization of censorship by a student reporter for an online publication does not adequately represent the context of the email to students in the online course. The email in question was sent in response to students wanting to discuss climate change and how their personal perspectives might impact their success in the course. The faculty members' email response to the students that they "will not, at any time, debate the science of climate change" did not provide sufficient reasoning for not debating climate change in a medical humanities course.

I have thoroughly researched this situation and present the following information:

A. The Provost and I met with the faculty for Humanities 3990, the Dean of the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, the director of the humanities program, and the department chairs for the faculty. Additionally, I met with faculty governance leaders.

B. I conferred with Vice President and University Counsel Patrick O'Rourke about possible legal and policy violations relative to the email sent from the faculty.

C. University Counsel O'Rourke investigated and confirmed no policy or legal violation had occurred although he concluded the rhetorical statements in the email were subject to misunderstanding and perceptions of censorship. 

D. I agreed no policy violations or legal violations had occurred. I further agreed the email when presented in a public forum without context could be interpreted to support censorship. 

E. I concluded all required reading materials in the course meet generally accepted standards for academic rigor and relevance. 

F. I presented these findings to the Regents of the University of Colorado and met with legislators who had expressed concern. Additionally, I have responded to all inquiries coming to my office from the public.

I have concluded that no censorship occurred and censorship was not the intent of the faculty. I also understand that perceptions of censorship did occur and the email to the students was the basis of that perception. I have talked with the faculty involved and they agree with these conclusions. I have spoken with these faculty members, as well as with other faculty and administrators, to underscore the need for improved communication in these types of circumstances.

Today, I am outlining next steps intended to be proactive and productive as we address important issues in an educational environment. The campus will convene a series of conversations on the importance of academic freedom and the expression of controversial positions. Students and faculty will be encouraged to participate, and the conversations will be facilitated by faculty and administrators. I will publish on the Chancellor's Office webpage the UCCS commitment to academic freedom in all of its forms for both faculty and students. I have always been and will continue to be committed to the principles of free speech, academic freedom, and respect for diverse viewpoints.