UCI News

UC’s National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement selects executive director

Civil rights advocate and scholar Michelle Deutchman to oversee advancement of innovative center

April 23, 2018
UC’s National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement selects executive director
“I am excited by the prospect of leveraging my energy and expertise to advance the dialogue around free speech and civic engagement,” says Michelle Deutchman, who will be the first executive director of the UC’s National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement. UCLA School of Law

Irvine, Calif., April 23, 2018 — A civil rights advocate and scholar with more than a decade of experience advancing free speech as an attorney and instructor has been named the first executive director of the University of California’s National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement.

Michelle Deutchman will join the center from the Anti-Defamation League, where she serves as national campus counsel. In this role, she provides guidance to ADL’s 24 regional offices on matters related to speech on college campuses. She assumes her new role on May 29 and will report to University of California, Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman, who – as co-chair of the center’s advisory board – provides administrative oversight of the center.

“Michelle has extraordinary experience addressing issues of free expression and campus climate and has worked extensively with campus constituencies to improve the national debate,” said Gillman, a nationally recognized constitutional and free speech scholar. “Her passion and expertise make her a perfect fit for this important role.”

The selection of an executive director marks a critical next step in the development of the center, which was launched by UC President Janet Napolitano last October, with Gillman and Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, as co-chairs of an advisory board of noted elected officials, journalists, academics and corporate leaders.

As executive director, Deutchman will be responsible for planning and executing center activities, including advancing its fellows program, establishing national conferences, and serving as a liaison to UCI, the UC Office of the President and sister UC campuses, as well as other universities and organizations engaged in shaping national discourse about free speech. She will be based in the UCDC Center in Washington, D.C., and at UCI.

“The National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement is developing into a vital resource advancing research, education and advocacy in these areas so key to American democracy, and Michelle will provide the leadership essential to its future success,” said Napolitano.

A free speech scholar and advocate

Since joining ADL in 2003, Deutchman has honed her focus on campus free speech subjects, providing guidance on issues related to free expression, which include policies and best practices for responding to all forms of protected speech. She has collaborated with state and national colleagues to educate and assist campus leaders in addressing the challenges of increased polarization among incoming freshman classes and of a political climate in which hateful rhetoric and incivility have become normalized.

Deutchman also takes her expertise into the classroom, where she teaches about on-campus free speech, cyberbulling and the law, religion in schools, and responding to hate crimes. She’s led courses at state universities, school districts, county and state agencies, and numerous police and sheriff’s offices. Since 2014, Deutchman has served as a lecturer at the UCLA School of Law.

“I am excited by the prospect of leveraging my energy and expertise to advance the dialogue around free speech and civic engagement,” she said. “It will be a privilege to help further establish the center and to grow its influence as a vital resource on the national stage.”

A Los Angeles native, Deutchman earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at UC Berkeley and a law degree at the University of Southern California. She was in private practice before being hired at ADL.

“I have known Michelle since she was my student at the USC law school, and we have often worked together on free speech issues over the years,” said Chemerinsky, who with Gillman is the author of Free Speech on Campus. “We could not have a better executive director to help create a preeminent center on free speech and civic engagement on campuses.”

Advancing research, education and advocacy

The University of California – birthplace of the Free Speech Movement – launched the National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement to support and advance research, education and advocacy on these challenging issues.

In February, the center announced its first 10 fellows. These scholars, students and analysts from across the country are spending a year researching timely, vital First Amendment topics. Their work will include developing tools, analyzing data and deriving lessons from history. Each will reside for a week at one of the 10 UC campuses to engage with students, faculty, administrators and community members.

In addition, the center named three new board members – National Public Radio White House correspondent Tamara Keith, Twitter general counsel Vijaya Gadde and UC Regent Emeritus Harvey Brody – joining former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, former U.S. Secretary of Education and CEO of The Education Trust John King, Facebook strategic communications director Anne Kornblut, UCLA law student Avi Oved, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, University of Chicago Law School professor Geoffrey R. Stone and Washington Post columnist George Will.

A national conference will be held later this year to allow the fellows to share their research and create an opportunity for elected officials, university leaders and others to come together to explore new approaches to engaging and educating students about the critical role of the First Amendment in American democracy.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

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