UC Irvine Vice Chancellor Sends an Official Message About the Rittenhouse Trial

Douglas M. Haynes, Vice-Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer (as well history professor, speaking only in his official capacity and as an academic member).

Today saw the conclusion of Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial against the State of Wisconsin. Although the jury was not guilty on five of the initial indictments, a sixth was dismissed by the judge. It included two murders and one injury that occurred on August 25th in Kenosha. This verdict provided relief for the Rittenhouse families, but it was accompanied by heavy grief from the grieving relatives and ongoing trauma of one survivor.

Even though this trial has ended, it does not mean that the systemic racism of the United States is over. This trial has only made it easier to see. Kyle Rittenhouse didn’t live in Wisconsin. He lived in Antioch in Illinois. He was in Kenosha to protest against the violence of police officers in the aftermath of Jacob Blake’s shooting. Blake was wounded seven times at the back. Protests continued in Kenosha in protest against the murders of George Floyd, May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, and Breonna Taylor, St. Louis (March 13, 2020) in Louisville. This multiracial demonstration was rooted in the call for racial equality and an end to police brutality. Rittenhouse intervened in the Kenosha protests. It was not necessary for Rittenhouse to assist. As much as resisting protestors was involved, it was also about rendering first aid and property defense.

The verdict is chilling because it conveys the following message: Black lives and those of their allies do not matter.

UCI will keep its entire university approach in recognizing and responding positively to anti-Blackness. Learn more on the UCI Black Thriving Initiative website.

The verdict sends the message, I believe.

  1. You have the right to defend yourself against “allies” or enemies, blacks and whites alike. anyone else.
  2. This is especially true if someone points a gun at or reaches for your firearm.
  3. A prosecution must disprove self-defense allegations beyond any reasonable doubt.
  4. Twelve jurors unanimously agreed that the prosecution didn’t have enough evidence.

Rittenhouse may have still been guilty. However, I believe universities are places where these matters can be discussed honestly and openly. It doesn’t seem to me like universities taking an official position on such issues is conducive. This is what the Kalven Report says:

The unique and important role of a university in the promotion and development of political and social values within a society is a significant one. Its distinctive mission defines the role, as well as the distinct characteristics of its community. It’s a role that is long term.

University’s mission is to improve, discover, and disseminate knowledge. The university’s scope of investigation and scrutiny encompasses all aspects of society and all its values. An institution that is true to its mission can continue to challenge social policies, institutions, and practices. It is, by design and effect, the institution that creates dissatisfaction with existing social arrangements and suggests new ones. A university that is good, such as Socrates, can be disruptive.

Individual faculty members or students are the instruments of criticism and dissent. It is neither the host nor the sponsor of criticisms. To return to the old phrase, it is a group of scholars. For a university to fulfill its social mission, it must provide an environment that allows for freedom of inquiry. It should also be free of political passions, pressures, and politics. To be faithful to intellectual inquiry and to the faith it holds, universities must welcome, encourage, and be open to all viewpoints within their own communities. Although it is an association, its purpose is limited to teaching and research. It’s not a club.

The university can only be considered a community for the limited purposes it serves. It cannot collectively address the current issues without threatening its survival and effectiveness. The university cannot achieve a common position that does not restrict the full freedom for dissent which allows it to thrive. The group cannot demand that its members agree on a particular view of social policies. If it decides to take collective action it will censuring those who disagree with it. The community cannot use majority voting to take positions on issues public.

Therefore, the neutrality of the university is an institution does not result in a lack or weakness of character. This is a result of the respect for freedom of inquiry and the obligation of cherishing a variety of views. The institution’s neutrality has its benefits in that it allows faculty members and students to take part in protests and participate in politics. It also finds its complement in the university’s responsibility to offer a platform for honest discussion and reflection on important public issues.

A great university’s power should be understood. Its influence and prestige are built on intellectual competence and integrity.

There will occasionally be instances when the society or parts of it threatens the mission and core values of the university. The university has an obligation to act in these situations and defend its rights and values. The university’s role in a particular situation may be questioned. This could include university property ownership, receipts of funds, awarding honors and membership in other organisations. The university should, therefore, be able to act in corporate capacities as any other institution. These university corporate activities may, in exceptional cases, be so contrary to fundamental social values that it requires careful evaluation.

These extraordinary instances apart, there emerges, as we see it, a heavy presumption against the university taking collective action or expressing opinions on the political and social issues of the day, or modifying its corporate activities to foster social or political values, however compelling and appealing they may be….

We believe that great universities can do huge things for society. Therefore, it should not allow itself to become a secondary-rate influence or political force.