This Week in the News: UCLA Launches, Ends Harassment Investigation of ‘Asians in the Library’ YouTube Video

By on March 18, 2011

It’s no mystery that the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has been a major source of campus free speech news this week. Student Alexandra Wallace was put under investigation for harassment after she took to YouTube to complain about the behavior of Asian students in the campus library where she studiesa video that has now generated more than 4.7 million views.

In response to UCLA’s investigation, FIRE pointed out on our blog and in a letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block that Wallace’s speech does not rise to the level of punishable discriminatory harassment. These arguments were picked up on The Volokh Conspiracy by UCLA School of Law professor and noted First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh, who concluded that Wallace’s speech is "clearly constitutionally protected" (as well as "moronic") and argued that punishing this speech would open the door to punishing much other speech.

The New York Times quoted Volokh’s article in an editorial published today, arguing that Wallace should not be disciplined for her video. While the Times stated that Wallace’s speech was racist and should be criticized, the Times emphasized that UCLA "would do a great disservice to itself and the First Amendment if it goes ahead and disciplines her for the content of her words." 

Today, in a victory for free expression, The Los Angeles Times has reported that UCLA announced that "it would not proceed with any investigation or disciplinary action" against Wallace. ABC News has more on the university’s decision here, noting FIRE’s letter to Chancellor Block.

Meanwhile, the maxim of addressing "bad" speech with "better" speech was vindicated. Erica showed how social pressure and counter-speech can do far more to address "offensive" speech than official censorship achieves.

Numerous other blogs picked up on the story as well, with Steven Nelson of The Daily Caller, Ed Driscoll of Pajamas Media, and Maya Dusenbery of Feministing among the many commenting on the situation. In addition, blogger Matthew Hurtt contributed his thoughts from the perspective of a recent college graduate. Elsewhere, Student Activism blogger Angus Johnston disapproved of what he perceived as FIRE’s failure to sufficiently condemn the content of the speech. Robert responded here, Johnston replied, and Greg answered Johnston here.

FIRE’s complete contributions on the case are collected here.

In other news, Jacob Lovell’s run-in with UGA Parking Services made the news again, in William E. Lee’s piece on "Protecting speech on college campus" in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Lee outs UGA for having policies that "are as flawed as the infamous University of Wisconsin and University of Michigan policies federal courts found to be unconstitutionally vague and overbroad," citing Lovell’s travails as a prime example of how such policies threaten expression on campus.

Anti-harassment legislation has also been a hot topic as of late, especially with the return to Congress of the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act. Now, as Neil Munro of The Daily Caller reports, "Education Department officials are threatening school principals with lawsuits if they fail to monitor and curb students’ lunchtime chat and evening Facebook time for expressing ideas and words that are deemed by Washington special-interest groups to be harassment." Munro reports that the agency has the support of the White House on this matter, but notes FIRE’s opposition to redefining harassment to encompass protected expression because of the serious threat to free speech and the open expression of controversial ideas on campus.

Finally, in his latest column for PolicyMic, our own Peter Bonilla discusses the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Snyder v. Phelps and the positive implications the decision carries for freedom of expression on college campuses, whether or not anyone approves of the expression at issue in that case.

Stay tuned for more here on The Torch in weeks to come.

Schools: University of California, Los Angeles Cases: University of California at Los Angeles: Disciplinary Investigation of Student’s Video