Did UC Berkeley's chancellor violate California law with her abortion email?
Carol T. Christ is currently the chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley. When the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs came out, returning abortion decisions to the states, she sat down and, using her official U.C. Berkeley email account, sent an admittedly personal email blast to every student, faculty member, and administrative person at U.C. Berkeley, numbering over 50,000 people. Moreover, if she included alumni on her distribution list, hundreds of thousands of additional people may have received her email. It's possible (this is speculation, not assertion) that Chancellor Christ violated California law when she sent that email.
I learned about Christ's conduct from a source who asked to remain anonymous for safety's sake. My contact passed on the following information about the email:
In Christ's email:
- She supports anti-life political views
- Implies anti-life political views should be universal.
- Marginalizes religious people.
- Implies only reason for objecting to abortion is religious people trying to control others.
Her message was sent using her official email account. It has the university letterhead. It was sent to everyone affiliated with UC. Because it is an official communication, even staff with no email (cleaning, cooks, etcs.) will get a printed copy.
How much would it cost another organization to send a targeted political message to every one of the Berkeley community?
I did an online search of California law about an employee's ability to use government property for personal use. If I understand the law correctly, it's not legal to do so. Here's what California's Government Code has to say at §8314:
(a) It is unlawful for any elected state or local officer, including any state or local appointee, employee, or consultant, to use or permit others to use public resources for a campaign activity, or personal or other purposes which are not authorized by law.
(3) "Public resources" means any property or asset owned by the state or any local agency, including, but not limited to, land, buildings, facilities, funds, equipment, supplies, telephones, computers, vehicles, travel, and state-compensated time.
The language in subdivision (a) is a bit ambiguous because it speaks of "elected state or local officer," which would exclude a chancellor, which is an appointed position, but then says that clause includes "any state or local appointee, employee, or consultant," which would include a chancellor. Therefore, I am not accusing Chancellor Christ of wrongdoing. I'm just wondering if she crossed a line.
The state takes §8314 seriously. A person who violates it "is liable for a civil penalty not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000) for each day on which a violation occurs, plus three times the value of the unlawful use of public resources." Although emails don't incur a monetary cost, any papers printed would establish damages. Also, as my informant noted, one way to value Christ's conduct is to look at what it would have cost her to do the same email and print blast without using government property.
By the way, there's no question about whether the message was personal, rather than official. In the email, which I've reprinted below, Christ freely admits that "I write today to share my personal opinion and reaction" (emphasis mine), even as she acknowledges that her job as chancellor requires neutrality. It seems to me that this situation may require some investigation.
[UC Berkeley Logo Graphic]
[Office of the Chancellor]
Dear campus community,
Today's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to effectively overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion, represents, for me, a devastating setback for American women, a turning back of the clock to a time when women were not at liberty to control their bodies or their lives. I write today to share my personal opinion and reaction. While our university, as an institution, must maintain neutrality I am compelled by the magnitude and meaning of today's decision on American women and their families to share my own perspectives.
I belong to a generation of women who came of age when birth control was legalized and when abortion was decriminalized. The freedom I have enjoyed to leave home after high school, chase my educational dreams, plan my family, and pursue a career was possible because of the rights enshrined in the Roe v. Wade decision that gave women full liberty and, effectively, a new and rightful place in society. We became inventors, doctors, teachers, lawyers, scientists, scholars, and more.
As the first female chancellor of the top public university in the world, I am writing to you today because today's decision by the Supreme Court is profoundly personal, alarming, and distressing. It's unimaginable to me that the freedoms enjoyed by a generation of women will not be shared by my granddaughters. Or, moreover, by our students, staff and faculty, all of whom deserve the same right to self determination that I and so many others have enjoyed.
Furthermore, the restrictions to abortion rights that will soon become law in dozens of states will disproportionately impact poor women and those from underrepresented communities. The consequences to families and communities are sure to be far-reaching and dire. So, too, are there potential consequences for our right to marry who we wish, and other legal protections that are based on the idea that we all have a right to agency over our lives and bodies.
That said, I have deep respect for those for whom opposition to abortion is a matter of faith, as a function of their beliefs as to when life begins. I believe they have every right to live their own lives in accordance with their values, and the dictates of those beliefs. I do not, however, believe that any of us should have the right to forcefully impose our values on those who do not share them. I am concerned about the extent to which today's decision will only serve to further fracture our society.
Here at Berkeley, we, through our committed University Health Services providers, will continue to offer our patients a full range of high quality reproductive health care services delivered with the utmost care and compassion, including those who may not identify as women. Moreover, I am heartened by the commitment of our governor and the majority of our elected officials in California to preserve and protect a woman's right to choose when and whether to have children.
In light of today's court ruling, we must recommit to our strong tradition of social justice at Berkeley. My fears are eased knowing that in our classrooms and in other spaces across our campus, we are preparing the next generation of leaders to advocate for the most vulnerable among us by championing fairness, equity and equality in creating a world in which all can thrive. I pledge to work alongside each of you to make this so.
Carol T. Christ
Here is a message (https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/press-room/uc-statement-dobbs-v-jackson-womens-health-organization-decision) sent earlier today from UC President Michael Drake on the subject.
This message was sent to all UC Berkeley faculty, staff, and students.
If you are a manager who supervises UC Berkeley employees without email access, please circulate this information to all.
End of message.