University of California President Michael V. Drake has been appointed chair of UC’s National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement, which was founded in 2017 and is housed both on the campus of UC Irvine and at the UC Washington Center in Washington, D.C., it was announced Tuesday.

The center “is committed to education, research and advocacy focused on the First Amendment’s critical importance to American civic life on campus and beyond,” according to a UC statement. The center brings together visiting fellows, legal scholars, social scientists, journalists and others to conduct research, hold workshops and mentor UC students.

“There is perhaps nothing so fundamental to academic inquiry and democracy than free speech and I am therefore honored to be able to lead UC’s National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement,” Drake said. “Open discourse remains essential to the mission of higher education and to a thriving body politic. These are values the center will continue to defend and advance.

“In this charged political climate, the cherished tradition of free expression is more critical than ever,” he said. “The University of California’s role is not only to protect free speech, but to guarantee it, even when many may find its expression objectionable. I know that the center is committed to upholding the values of the First Amendment.”

The center’s National Advisory Board is co-chaired by UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman and UC Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.

“The center has established itself as a premier resource for national discussions on campus speech and civic engagement and as a convener of vitally important debates and discussions,” Gillman said. “President Drake’s leadership ensures that the University of California will continue its longstanding contributions to core principles of free speech and community engagement.”

Chemerinsky also welcomed Drake’s appointment as chair.

“A contentious election year highlights the necessity and challenges of free speech in America. Under President Drake’s leadership, I know the center will continue the national conversation on free speech and democracy,” he said.

The center’s work extends to every UC campus and beyond. Each year, it awards up to 10 fellowships to figures from a range of disciplines and backgrounds. Fellows, whose projects include developing educational materials and programs that serve as a roadmap for safeguarding and encouraging the free exchange of ideas, also spend a week in residence at one of UC’s 10 campuses.

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