Victory for Free Speech at UC Santa Barbara

By on February 4, 2005

SANTA BARBARA, Calif., February 4, 2005—The University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) has abandoned an attempt to force the owner of a website called The Dark Side of UCSB from using the letters “UCSB” in his web address.UCSB threatened Mr. James Baron, the site’s owner, with criminal sanctions if he did not change the site’s address.The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) protested UCSB’s unconstitutional threats, and on the very same day that UCSB received FIRE’s letter, the university notified Mr. Baron that it would pursue the matter no further.

“We are relieved that UCSB has come to its senses and realized that it may not prohibit those who might criticize the university from using the university’s name,” remarked FIRE President David French.“UCSB twice told Mr. Baron, whose website is critical of the university, that it was a crime to use the UCSB name without the university’s permission.It is simply absurd for a public university to claim that it cannot be criticized by name.”

Mr. Baron created www.thedarksideofucsb.com to draw public attention to what he and others see as a dangerous and lawless campus culture at UCSB.The website criticizes USCB administrators for not doing enough to change this culture.In November 2004, UCSB sent Mr. Baron two notices claiming that he had violated California law by including the letters “UCSB” in the web address, and that using the letters without permission could make him “guilty of a misdemeanor” under Section 92000 of the California Education Code.Asked about the university’s actions in an article in UCSB’s campus newspaper, administrator Margaret Clow claimed that the university was concerned that Internet users would believe The Dark Side of UCSB was an official UCSB website.

Baron contacted FIRE, and on January 31, 2005, FIRE wrote UCSB, pointing out that the possibility that the public would confuse The Dark Side of UCSB with an official UCSB site was remote because of its content, its disclaimer, and its “.com” address.FIRE also pointed out that any law or regulation, such as California Education Code Section 92000, that attempted to deprive critics of UCSB from using the name or initials of the university for noncommercial use was patently unconstitutional because it infringed upon the First Amendment rights of Mr. Baron to speak out about what he saw as a destructive culture for students at UCSB.

“Section 92000 of the California Education Code has serious constitutional problems,” remarked Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy.“It purports to forbid people to use the University of California name in connection with strikes, lockouts, or virtually any political, social, or economic movement or activity.Mr. Baron is not the only person whose rights are threatened by this law.For example, it would also forbid strikers from making signs saying ‘UCSB Unfair!’This is manifestly a violation of the First Amendment,” he continued.

On February 1, FIRE received a response from the University of California General Counsel’s office saying that Mr. Baron’s website “does not at this time pose a potential for confusion that the site is affiliated with the campus, and [UCSB does] not intend to pursue the matter further.”University Counsel David Birnbaum also stated that “the campus objects to such misuse when it occurs, regardless of any political or other points of view involved,” and that the university had made the decision to drop the matter earlier on the same day that FIRE’s letter arrived.

FIRE’s Lukianoff commented, “The university’s claim that after two months of insisting that The Dark Side of UCSB was in violation of the law, it coincidentally decided to drop the matter on the very same day that it received our letter seems suspect to say the least.No matter what its reasons for bowing to the U.S. Constitution, however, the university is now on notice that attempting to use Section 92000 to hamstring its critics will no longer work.”

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, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.

 

CONTACT:

Greg Lukianoff, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; greg@thefire.org

David French, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; david.french@thefire.org

Schools: University of California, Santa Barbara