Victory for Freedom of the Press: UC San Diego Ends Unconstitutional Funding Freeze

By on March 11, 2010

Last night, the student government of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) voted to end an ongoing moratorium on funding for student media. The vote restores funding for student media organizations and makes no changes to the current policy governing student media. FIRE has been working with student media to end the funding freeze.

It is far past time that the unconstitutional funding freeze, which was unilaterally enacted on February 18 by Utsav Gupta, President of the Associated Students of UCSD (UCSD’s student government), was lifted. Controversy over a party invitation for an off-campus event called the “Compton Cookout” simply does not justify unconstitutional censorship.

FIRE condemned the media shutdown, which denied funding to 33 student media organizations, in a letter sent last month to Gupta and UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox. FIRE’s letter pointed out that these actions violate the constitutional rights of the organizations involved, not least because the student government is an agent of UCSD and is thus bound by the First Amendment. The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties and the Student Press Law Center also denounced the freeze, and a Facebook group opposing the mass censorship currently has more than 1,500 members.

The invitation for the February 15 party, which first appeared on social networking site Facebook, celebrated racial stereotypes, asked female partygoers to dress as “ghetto chicks,” and invited partygoers to “experience the various elements of life in the ghetto.” As controversy roiled campus in the week following the invitation’s publication, student media organization The Koala broadcast a defense of the party on UCSD’s Student Run Television (SRTV), including language that many persons on campus found highly offensive. In response, Gupta took immediate action to shut down the broadcast and then the entire station because the broadcast was “deeply offensive and hurtful.”

As of yet, no disciplinary charges have been filed against either the students associated with the party invitation or members of The Koala, despite calls for investigation and punishment by students, faculty, and members of the California legislature. Chancellor Fox and other UCSD administrators promised “aggressive investigations” into possible disciplinary violations. FIRE warned UCSD that punishing students for protected speech would violate the First Amendment in a separate letter.

FIRE will still be monitoring the situation at UCSD closely, as we fear that more attempts at censorship may yet be made, but there’s no denying that this vote is a big victory for freedom of the press on UCSD’s campus. As Will said in today’s press release: “The answer to controversial speech must always be more speech, and never censorship. Hopefully, UCSD’s student government has now learned that shutting down the media in a time of crisis is the hallmark of an illiberal dictatorship, not American democracy.”

Schools: University of California, San Diego Cases: University of California at San Diego: First Amendment Violations at UCSD