Plaintiffs in the Felber v Regents case have agreed to dismiss their lawsuit. The suit, originally filed on March 4, 2011, was brought by one former and one current UC Berkeley student who alleged that demonstrations on campus critical of Israel’s policies created a hostile environment for Jewish students on the Berkeley campus and that the University had a legal obligation to curtail such demonstrations.
Under the terms of an agreement with the University of California, plaintiffs will dismiss the lawsuit, and will receive no monetary compensation or reimbursement of attorneys’ fees. The agreement provides that the University will consider certain clarifications to policies governing campus demonstrations after members of the campus community have an opportunity to comment on them, but it leaves final discretion whether to adopt the clarifications up to the University.
The University defended the lawsuit on the grounds that the great majority of the conduct plaintiffs complained about was constitutionally protected speech and that the University had made extensive efforts to maintain an inclusive and respectful campus environment that is safe and welcoming for everyone. On December 21, 2011, US District Court Judge Richard Seeborg dismissed plaintiffs’ legal complaint, ruling that plaintiffs’ own allegations showed that University administrators had “engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the opposing parties in an attempt to ensure that the rights of all persons are respected, and to minimize the potential for violence and unsafe conditions.” A motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ attempt to re-allege their claims was pending when plaintiffs agreed to drop their suit.
”We are pleased with the successful resolution of this litigation,” said UC Berkeley Dean of Students, Jonathan Poullard. “The claim that there is a hostile environment for Jewish students at Berkeley is, on its face, entirely unfounded. The campus takes great pride in its vibrant Hillel chapter, the broad range of other Jewish student groups, our world-class Jewish Studies program, and the recently created Institute for Jewish Law and Israeli Law at the Berkeley law school.”
In recent years the University has taken significant and effective steps to ensure that interactions between student groups with opposing points of view remain civil and free of confrontation. The Berkeley campus has set up student and administration teams whose sole purpose is to monitor the campus environment, develop ideas that will help promote civility and respond quickly if participants engage in conduct that is not constitutionally protected and threaten to violate the rights of others. The University has also provided funding to student groups from a variety of perspectives who are interested in promoting a safe and respectful campus climate, including a group of Muslim and Jewish students who came forward with an innovative idea to promote dialogue and coexistence. The University has also established a web site that allows any member of the community to anonymously report incidents, actions and speech that they believe violates the law, the University’s principles of community and/or the code of student conduct.
Under the agreement with plaintiffs, the University will consider two minor clarifications of its “Time, Place and Manner” policies that govern protests and demonstrations on the campus. One proposed revision would clarify that imitation firearms cannot be displayed in public areas of the campus “unless it would be obvious to a reasonable observer that the imitation weapon is not a real weapon” and the display is approved by campus police. The other would clarify that groups engaging in activities around Sather Gate must allow an unobstructed path for pedestrian traffic. Both of these proposed policy clarifications are consistent with the University’s existing practices. Under the terms of the agreement, the entire campus community will be invited to participate in a review of these proposed policy revisions and to provide public comment about the extent to which they should be modified or clarified. The agreement does not, however, obligate the University to change any existing policies at the end of the public review process.