San Diego Columnist: Investigating Protected Speech is an Expensive Mistake

By on March 1, 2010

Writing in San Diego’s North County Times, columnist Jim Trageser makes several important points regarding the controversy that continues to roil the University of California, San Diego, in the wake of the off-campus "Compton Cookout" party.

First, Trageser notes that UCSD’s ongoing investigation of protected speech is likely meant to chill further student expression:

[S]chool administrators have launched an investigation to see whether they can, indeed, punish said students. It says here that the investigation itself is an absolute violation of the First Amendment. The publicly announced investigation is clearly intended to intimidate other students into avoiding any more controversial actions that might further roil the campus.

Next, Trageser details exactly what the appropriate student response should not be:

Those who disagree with the premise of the "Compton Cookout" party have every right to be offended. What they don’t have a right to do is silence the students who held that party.

Don’t like the Compton Cookout?

Hold your own party making fun of conservative white students.

But to demand that the students behind the party be disciplined?

Not at a public university.

Finally, Trageser points out that any disciplinary action taken by UCSD here will be legally suspect, given the decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence governing the applicability of the First Amendment to public universities. Moroever, Trageser notes, meting out punishments in the face of political pressure will likely end up costing taxpayers a big chunk of change: 

Besides, the law is clear. In 1993, UC Riverside expelled members of a fraternity for holding a supposedly "racist" beach party. Those expulsions were reversed, along with all disciplinary measures against the fraternity, and UCR administrators were forced to concede that they had no authority to try to control students’ expression.

Here’s hoping UCSD administrators come to the same conclusion without expensive and unnecessary litigation.

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