Victory at UC Santa Barbara: University Nixes Student Government’s Unconstitutional Rejection of David Horowitz Speech

By on October 10, 2011

LOS ANGELES, October 10, 2011—Officials at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) have stepped in after its student government unconstitutionally denied funding for a speech by conservative activist David Horowitz. The student government had engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination on two separate occasions and then tried to hide the evidence of its wrongdoing. The College Republicans, Horowitz’s hosts, came to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.

“UCSB’s student government utterly refused to fulfill its constitutional duty to be viewpoint-neutral in its funding decisions,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “Thankfully, USCB has finally rectified this error and saved itself from an embarrassing and inevitably doomed fight against the First Amendment.”

In May, UCSB’s Associated Students Finance Board denied a request from the UCSB College Republicans (CRs) for $2,000 to host conservative activist David Horowitz for a speaking event. On May 3, Lucy Nguyen, Associated Students liaison to the CRs, explained that “the board believes that the dialogue between Horowitz and UCSB students will not be a constructive one.” Supreme Court precedent, however, does not allow student fee funding decisions to be based on the student government’s opinion of that speaker’s views or fears about the “dialogue” that might ensue.

The CRs appealed to the Associated Students Legislative Council (ASLC), which heard the appeal on May 4. Several ASLC members provided further blatantly unconstitutional reasons for voting against any allocation for the event, as reported in the meeting minutes:

  • “I believe the statements should be founded in fact and there’s a difference between that and completely outlandish statements. … If there were intelligent discourse with David, then great, but this is not the case. He will go on a rant about people that he doesn’t agree with or like.”
  • “My only reservation with bringing Horowitz is that it would be an educational event. David belittles students and professors and will only anger folks.”
  • “Do you think the idea of free speech jeopardizes the safety of students on the campus?”
  • “Couldn’t you [the CRs] have chosen someone who better represents your minority group in a constructive manner?”
  • “Not funding their [the CRs'] event is not making them feel like they are not included in this campus. Being a political[] minority is WAY different than a structural minority.”

Although the ASLC allocated $1,100 for the event, an outcry from the audience at the meeting led the ASLC to reopen the debate and allocate only $800. The ASLC also voted to hide the Finance Board’s discussion from the public record.

FIRE wrote UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang on May 6 and June 7, detailing the utter failure of student government members to vote on a viewpoint-neutral basis, in violation of the First Amendment. On June 21, Campus Counsel Nancy Greenan Hamill replied to FIRE, claiming that the CRs had been allocated $1,100, but the CRs’ official Fund Audit Report showed no such allocation.

UCSB administrators provided FIRE and CRs President Steven Begakis with conflicting information for months until, finally, on October 6, UCSB Assistant Dean of Students Katya Armistead produced a document demonstrating that UCSB had put $1,800 in the CRs’ account.

“The months it took for UCSB administrators to get their own story straight just compounded the problem caused by the student government,” FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel said. “UCSB ultimately did the right thing by making the CRs whole, but it must now take steps to ensure that its student government never again violates the First Amendment rights of a student organization.”

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America are described at thefire.org.

CONTACT:
Adam Kissel, Vice President of Programs, FIRE: 215-717-3473; adam@thefire.org
Henry T. Yang, Chancellor, University of California, Santa Barbara: 805-893-2231; henry.yang@chancellor.ucsb.edu

Take Action: Tell UCSB’s student government to start meeting its free speech obligations today!

Schools: University of California, Santa Barbara