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Free speech controversy on the Chico State campus

Action News Now anchor Debbie Cobb dives into the particulars behind a controversial free speech debate involving a tenured professor who shouted out her opinion - on her own personal Facebook page.

Posted: Sep 19, 2020 11:22 AM
Updated: Sep 20, 2020 10:18 AM

CHICO, Calif. -  Chico State has a new police chief, but his welcome has been far from traditional. A memorandum sent to the University staff and students by campus vice president Ann Sherman welcomed the new chief but was then met by what some describe as an "online assault" from a tenured professor that drew harsh criticism from some members of the community.

The newly-appointed head of the campus police department, Chief Matt Dillon, has been at the helm for just about a week. "People are going to have their opinions," said Chief Dillon." And social media certainly makes it easier to express those very quickly," he added.

Chico State University President Gayle Hutchinson is having to do some damage control, said Action News Now anchor Debbie Cobb on Friday. Debbie has been investigating this controversial free speech story that has been circulating on social media.

Dr. Lindsay Briggs, a tenured Chico State professor, responded to Ann Sherman's welcome letter on her own personal social media account. Briggs dropped the f-bomb and called Chico State administrators "out of touch." Dr. Briggs, a self-described feminist and anarchist, was unable to go on camera but told Debbie that she stands by her statement.

Dr. Briggs took exception to Sherman's comment that it had been a "challenging time for  UPD." Briggs stated on a Facebook post on her personal page, "You know what is more challenging than being a police officer? Being a black person who is murdered by a police officer because of systemic racism."

The exchange triggered numerous complaints from the community and Chico State alumni, but when asked about this by Debbie Cobb, President Hutchinson said hurtful speech is free speech. The University president added this comment, "Freedom of speech at times may be abhorrent speech, even hurtful speech."

"We support law enforcement," added Hutchinson, saying, she is "a strong advocate of law enforcement and our university police department."

"I always have been," she added.    

Anchor Debbie Cobb asked President Hutchinson what action will be taken, if any, against Dr. Briggs? 

Cobb, after investigating this story, said we may never know the answer to that question. Debbie said Hutchinson could not discuss Dr. Briggs' situation specifically because it is a personnel matter.

President Hutchinson also told Debbie that was not aware of any incidents or history of prejudice or racism by any university police officer toward any student or staff member.

As part of her investigation, Debbie sought out a few students on campus. The ones she spoke with said while they did not necessarily support Dr. Briggs's statement, they did support her right to free speech on her personal account. They told Debbie they did not want to hear her opinions in the classroom, however.

CSUC student Jaden Misencik shared his opinion.  "If it's in a professional setting or a public speech or something, definitely not. But if it's on their own personal private forum, of course, it's always available."

President Hutchinson said she is establishing a task force with a diverse representation of students, staff, university police, and community members to assure that students and staff of every race feel welcome on the Chico State campus.

California Coronavirus Cases

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Tuesday was another sunny and unseasonably warm to hot day for much of northern California. It was much like Monday, except the wind was stronger, and the wind will be much stronger through much of the next week.
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