A recent Mustang Daily article shared information about “CARE-net,” a pilot program intended to expand the opportunities of students and other community members to voice concerns about incidents involving possible bias or discrimination at Cal Poly and seek assistance regarding appropriate responses. While the program is still under development and has not yet been implemented, there has been some confusion about its operation. I would like to share a few clarifying remarks.
CARE-net will play a role similar in some respects to that of a traditional ombuds. Someone wishing to report a troubling incident will have the opportunity to do so either through an online reporting system or via a network of trained university volunteers, initially numbering about a dozen, distributed across campus in various colleges and offices. The response will vary, depending on the nature of the concern.
For example, in instances where the incident involves speech that is constitutionally protected, the community advocate would lend a sympathetic ear to the offended individual and perhaps help identify options for communicating concerns back to the individual whose words gave offense. In instances where a report is received of behavior such as sexual harassment that violates law or policy, the individual would be referred to sources of care and assistance and to appropriate authorities for further review, investigation, and possible action.
Most certainly, CARE-net will not function to suppress controversial, offensive or any other kind of protected speech. Rather, it will actually expand opportunities for speech by giving students and other community members additional avenues, beyond what they have now, for expressing their own views about incidents that they find threatening, hurtful, or offensive.
Cal Poly is strongly supportive of robust and unfettered expression, consistently hosts groups and individuals representing views all across the political spectrum, and supports the right of faculty, staff and students to hold and express diverse views. The CARE-net program will be implemented consistent with these important principles and we hope and expect that it will serve to help expand — rather than diminish — communication and dialogue.
As I stated at the outset, CARE-net is still under development. When we feel it is ready for implementation, we will announce this to the university community and provide opportunities for community members to share questions, comments and advice about the program.
W. David Conn is the Vice Provost for Academic Programs and Undergraduate Education, a professor in the city and regional planning department and a guest columnist for the Mustang Daily.