Double Standards at UCSD

By on February 25, 2010

Anyone following the current free-speech controversy at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) should be aware of the university’s response to another situation that arose at UCSD back in 1995.

In March of 1995, a U.S. Border Patrol agent named Luis Santiago was killed in the line of duty. In May of that same year, the UCSD student publication Voz Fronteriza published an article entitled "Death of a Migra Pig," celebrating Santiago’s death and calling for the deaths of additional border patrol agents: "We’re glad this pig died, he deserved to die … As far as we care all the Migra pigs should be killed, every single one … It is time to organize an anti-Migra patrol …."  Public outrage ensued over what many referred to as "hate speech"; Congressman Duncan L. Hunter (now retired) called for an investigation of the incident and threatened to pursue legislation that would eliminate federal funding for UCSD. 

Joseph W. Watson, UCSD’s Vice Chancellor at the time, issued a reply to Rep. Hunter stating, "Although the administration may have strong objections to the content of a specific article in student papers, the courts have ruled that student newspapers have the right to publish their views without adverse administrative action, unless there is an explicit violation of the law or university regulations." Referring to Voz Fronteriza, Watson told the San Diego Union-Tribune that "Like most student newspapers, they have an effort to achieve some shock value." ("Rep. Hunter demands apology; student editorial said border agents should die," Jeff Ristine, San Diego Union-Tribune, July 6, 1995.) The university also issued an official statement on the matter, in which it stated that "The University is legally prohibited from censuring the content of student publications … Previous attempts by universities and other entities to regulate freedom of speech, including hate speech, have all been ruled unconstitutional." (Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate, The Shadow University, p. 238.)

Let’s see what these two situations have in common. "Hateful" expression by UCSD students? Yep. Calls for action by elected officials? Yep. A university doing the right thing and emphatically standing up for the First Amendment in the face of public pressure? Nope–this is where the two stories part ways. While UCSD defended Voz Fronteriza‘s right to publish its controversial editorial, it is now launching "aggressive investigations" into those students accused of racially offensive speech in the "Compton Cookout" controversy and is standing by while its agent for allocating student fees, the student government, tramples the First Amendment rights of the student media.

This is not the first time FIRE has had to point out this double standard. In 2002, when the UCSD administration attempted to discipline The Koala (the same humor publication whose broadcast on UCSD’s student-run television station led to its shutdown in the current case) for a parody of the leader of a Latino student group, FIRE wrote to the UCSD Chancellor:

The Koala has been threatened with being derecognized, defunded, and dissolved. This differs greatly, of course, from UCSD’s ringing endorsement of the constitutional freedom of MEChA’s Voz Fronteriza in 1995, when that student publication urged the death of Hispanic agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. … FIRE would love to debate in public your shocking double standard; we would be pleased, however, to achieve the quiet restoration to The Koala of the same rights that you emphatically protected for MEChA’s own Voz Fronteriza.

The UCSD administration eventually dropped its 2002 case against The Koala, but it seems that the same double standard has once again reared its ugly head. FIRE hopes that everyone concerned with freedom of speech on campus will continue to pressure UCSD to respect the First Amendment rights of its students and student media.

Schools: University of California, San Diego Cases: University of California at San Diego: First Amendment Violations at UCSD