The Associated Students of UCSD (ASUCSD), which is the student government at University of California, San Diego, has become a First Amendment nightmare for 33 student organizations on campus. Late last week, ASUCSD’s president, Utsav Gupta, unilaterally froze funding to 33 student media organizations because one of them had permitted another publication, The Koala, to broadcast "hateful speech." Gupta has explained that his repressive actions were due to "fracturing of the student body on an issue," saying that his blanket ban on media spending is a "time out." Gupta has argued several times that since he banned all media organizations from spending money, and not just The Koala, that his ban didn’t violate the First Amendment. Even setting aside this argument, with which FIRE strongly disagrees, Gupta conveniently ignores the fact that all other non-media student organizations funded by ASUCSD are allowed to spend their money from ASUCSD to publish their own views.
Last night, the ASUCSD convened to hold a vote on whether Gupta’s unilateral and arbitrary freeze on media funding should be upheld. Unfortunately, as The California Review‘s Alec Weisman has reported in detail and on video, ASUCSD upheld Gupta’s ban as well as the dissolution of Student Run Television (SRTV). Weisman’s reporting, which accurately portrays the content of the videos, illustrates the contentiousness of the scene:
At 5:21 in this video, I walk over to Peter (my staffer) to call him away. Nine seconds later, a girl associated with MEChA and the BSU hits me and my camera and then freaks out on me. I was at least an arms length away from her, and she leans under Peter to hit me.
I then get furious that they are trying to violate my freedom of the press AGAIN! and ask the AS if I am allowed to film at the event, to which they say yes…
And then, at 7:03, they change their mind and claim I actually don’t have the right to film them. They also threaten to call security to take me away.
I turn off my camera, and thirty seconds later I am told by another student that the AS is wrong. I then turn my camera back on and tell the AS that I am filming again and that they are wrong.
I tell them they can either call security or show me where in the law I am prohibited from filming the meeting. They call a recess for 5 minutes in response to try to find a way to stop me from filming.
After AS resumes their proceedings, they agree that I have the right to film the public meeting.
An AS council member attempts to use the girl’s assault on me as an example of a disruption, but this is dismissed.
They start discussion of the media funding freeze.
The AS considers extending the media funding freeze. The Sixth College Senator, John Condello, does his best to argue on behalf of respecting the First Amendment and the media organizations. Our hat goes out to him, and I know who my new favorite AS Council member is. When all this is over I want to give him an award for standing up to tyranny.
AS VP of Finance & Resources Peter Benesch then argues why "feeling safe" is more important than the First Amendment. [Start watching at around 8:26 for the following minute and a half.]
***This video opens with AS admitting that they are targeting the Koala by redoing the media guidelines and the media freeze, but cannot admit that because of legal reasons. Because AS President Utsav cannot say the answer, he has to give her a thumbs up. He knows that he is not allowed to say this on camera.
They vote on the media organization freeze. Only four members of the associated students could be heard to vote in support of free speech.
SRTV then made [its] appeal to be reinstated.
Campus Wide Senator, Bryant Pena, asks questions of SRTV manager. AS President, Utsav Gupta offered his opposition to SRTV as well.
At 7:30, SRTV manager Thomas Dadourian even asks AS to fire him so that SRTV can continue running.
At the time stamp of 7:48, Campus Wide Senator Desiree Prevo made this outrageous statement "As a student of color on this campus that has been continuously marginalized, your voice is only silent temporarily. My voice is silent permanently on this campus. So I’m just asking you this, please consider more time. Your voice is silenced temporarily. I’m silenced permanently because of the color of my skin. So consider, just a little more time. That’s all I’m asking."
In the final video, despite all the arguments that SRTV manager Thomas Dadourian makes, the council members of AS continue to oppose the reinstatement of SRTV.
Anybody who does the First Amendment analysis responsibly can only conclude that the ASUCSD has just countenanced unconstitutional mass censorship of UCSD’s student media. There’s no gray area when a government official from UCSD or its agent, ASUCSD, cuts off funding to student groups because of protected expression—especially when it announces that this is exactly what has been done.
You may be one of the many people who hate the language used by The Koala and the party invitation that started it all at UCSD. You may see it as brash satire, buffoonery, opportunism, or sincere expression of personal views. No matter your personal feelings regarding the speech at issue, the First Amendment analysis must nevertheless end up the same. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of San Diego & Imperial Counties has now written three letters to UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox, not only agreeing with FIRE’s analysis but extending the arguments with additional considerations. Also, a student reports that the Student Press Law Center has agreed to help the media groups as well.
It’s now just a telling footnote that may come as no surprise that ASUCSD has defended those who recently disrupted a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine, calling for the possibility of academic consequences to be dropped. As almost everyone agrees, the coordinated, frequent, long-lasting disruptions do not count as protected speech. (Of course, it’s up to UC Irvine to decide whether its students have so severely disrupted a campus event that they deserve serious consequences.)
ASUCSD’s blatant violation of the First Amendment must have consequences, and UCSD is about to fall through some very thin ice by failing to intervene to preserve the rights of its own students.