The student-comprised Judicial Board at the University of California, San Diego ruled on June 5, 2002 that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate a student complaint that representatives of the Koala, an independent student-run newspaper, had disrupted a November 19, 2001 meeting of another student group, the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA). The charges against the Koala were consequently dropped.
On June 19, 2002, the day after FIRE issued its press release—which garnered major national media attention and inquiries to UCSD—George Liddle, the editor-in-chief of The Koala, received notice of the dismissal of the charges. If UCSD dropped the charges on June 5, why in the world did UCSD wait two full weeks—during final exams, no less—to inform those involved of its decision? If the claim is true, the behavior only further highlights UCSD’s disregard for due process, fundamental fairness, the chilling of free expression, and student lives.
On June 10, 2002, UCSD Director of Student Policy and Judicial Affairs Nicholas S. Aguilar, who oversees the Judicial Board, faxed a response to FIRE’s letter of May 22, 2002. He did not speak of “dropped” charges. Rather, he claimed simply that the current actions against The Koala were not motivated by content.
The student complaint and hearing focused exclusively on alleged disruptive behavior by an alleged Koala staff member. Neither the complaint nor the hearing concerned the Koala‘s editorial content.
As FIRE noted in its May 22, 2002 letter to UCSD: “The very weakness of this ‘disruption’ charge indicates that UCSD has an outside motive for prosecuting The Koala, and it appears all but certain that this motive is The Koala‘s controversial content.” If the case, in fact, involved nothing more than a student taking photographs at a public meeting, a charge of “disruption” and the serious consequences of a conviction—the UCSD administration proposed an eighteen-month suspension of publication and a five-year probation as a compromise “settlement”—were grossly disproportionate and baseless. UCSD’s own reiterated pronouncements on The Koala reveal the charge of “disruption” as a pretext for removing the publication from campus.
Statements made and actions taken by University officials leave no doubt that the administration had a strong prejudice against The Koala:
- In a November 25, 2001 email to MEChA President Ernesto Martinez, Director of Student Policy and Judicial Affairs Nicholas S. Aguilar—who is responsible for the fair execution of campus judicial proceedings—reminded him of a meeting between Aguilar, Martinez, and Vice Chancellor Watson. In that email, Aguilar “encouraged” Martinez “to contact Student Legal Services for assistance in assessing legal recourse that may be available to you and other who were targets of The Koala publication.” Also in that email, Aguilar praised Martinez for standing up to the “hate, bigotry, and intolerance” of The Koala. In another email dated November 28, 2001, Aguilar indicated to Martinez that a college administrator, Elizabeth Urtecho, “was developing a plan to counter/mitigate the negative consequences of The Koala publication on UCSD campus environment.”
- In the November 29, 2001 issue of The UCSD Guardian, Chancellor Robert C. Dynes stated publicly that although The Koala‘s parody of MEChA “may be protected by the First Amendment, it is a clear violation of our UCSD Principles of Community and our goal of a hate-free campus.”
- On March 8, 2002, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Joseph W. Watson stated, “We condemn The Koala‘s abuse of the Constitutional guarantees of free expression and disfavor their unconscionable behavior.”These statements demonstrate that the UCSD administration, working with Martinez, was moving against The Koala precisely on the basis of content, even to the consideration of legal action. Such efforts went far beyond any helpful role of administrators and constituted active participation in a campaign to remove the publication from campus life.
The unequal treatment of two campus publications—Voz Fronteriza in 1995 and The Koala today—implies that content is the only possible variable in explaining why The Koala was prosecuted. No other publication receives such stern condemnation from UCSD administrators—and Voz Fronteriza‘s calls to murder U.S. government officials elicited precisely the opposite reaction from UCSD, including then and current Vice Chancellor Watson. On the one hand, citing the First Amendment, UCSD claimed that Voz Fronteriza had the right, which it vigorously and publicly defended, to call for the deaths of Latino INS officers. On the other hand, UCSD found that The Koala‘s parody of MEChA’s president deserved public condemnation and a campaign to “counter/mitigate” The Koala‘s influence. For UCSD, in violation of its constitutional obligations, content is the critical variable.
We also would like to clarify a secondary issue which [sic] arose in the course of this proceeding. Another UCSD student publication, the Guardian, asked permission to attend the hearing. Under university policies, the privacy of participants in disciplinary hearings is paramount. Closed hearings are a normal procedure in the case of disciplinary issues. To protect the privacy of its student records, UCSD was unable to comply with that request. FACT:
This was not a charge against individual students, with penalties for those students, but a charge, already public and widely discussed by administrators and campus media, against a student publication, with penalties for that publication. The rightful interest of a large number of campus media to attend this hearing was denied not from any claims of privacy under the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, but simply from UCSD’s desire to suppress The Koala behind closed doors. If UCSD were actually concerned with the rights of its students, they never would have brought these outrageous charges in the first place.
Greg C. Lukianoff
Director of Legal and Public Advocacy
(215) 717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Schools: University of California, San Diego