Victory for Free Expression: UCLA Drops Unconstitutional Threats Against Internet Speech; Online Speech Still Threatened at Santa Rosa Junior College

By August 21, 2009

Within hours of FIRE’s press release yesterday afternoon, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) had withdrawn its unconstitutional demand that a former student take down a website criticizing the university. UCLA had demanded that Tom Wilde shut down his private, non-commercial website, ucla-weeding101.info, by last Monday.

In her August 6 letter demanding that Wilde shut down the website, UCLA Senior Campus Counsel Patricia M. Jasper threatened that the site constituted trademark infringement, and could be a criminal offense under the California Education Code. But as FIRE made clear in its letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block, "cybergriping" websites like Wilde’s are fully protected by the First Amendment, and no reasonable person could mistake Wilde’s site as being an official UCLA site or having the college’s endorsement.

After an initial letter from Jasper promising "a fuller response … in the very near future," UCLA relented. The university stated in a letter faxed yesterday to FIRE that while the university would appreciate more changes to the site to further clarify its lack of official endorsement by UCLA, "[i]n any event, the University hereby withdraws the demands made upon Mr. Wilde in our letter to him of August 6, 2009."

UCLA’s prompt and welcome recognition of the First Amendment freedoms at stake should send a powerful message to the other California institution highlighted in yesterday’s statement: Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC), which has unconstitutionally banned the use of the initials "srjc" in e-mail addresses and website domain names, again misinterpreting the California Education Code. After a letter from FIRE to SRJC President Robert Agrella and a follow-up letter to Jack Scott, Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, Agrella acknowledged in a statement sent to faculty and staff that "SRJC has no interest in limiting speech that is ‘unambiguously private.’"

FIRE is still waiting for Agrella to send this same message to his students and assure them that the ban has been permanently lifted. Until then, free speech at SRJC remains unconstitutionally chilled. Concerned citizens should write to President Agrella and Chancellor Scott and urge them to follow UCLA’s example.  

Schools: University of California, Los Angeles Cases: University of California at Los Angeles: Attempt to Stop Critical Website from Using Letters ‘UCLA’