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

March 11, 2010

SAN DIEGO, March 11, 2010—In a victory for freedom of the press on campus, the student government of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) voted last night 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. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has been working with student media to end the funding freeze.

“It took far too long, but with last night’s vote, UCSD’s student government has finally overruled its president’s grievous disregard for the First Amendment,” said FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley. “As FIRE and other civil liberties organizations have repeatedly pointed out during the past two weeks, eliminating outlets for student dialogue at precisely the time they are most needed was a terrible—and unconstitutional—mistake.”

The unconstitutional funding freeze was unilaterally enacted on February 18 by Utsav Gupta, President of the Associated Students of UCSD (UCSD’s student government), in the wake of controversy over a party invitation for an off-campus event called the “Compton Cookout.” Gupta had argued that his repressive actions were necessary to combat “fracturing of the student body on an issue” and “hateful speech.”

FIRE condemned the media shutdown, which denied funding to 33 student media organizations, in a letter sent to Gupta and UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox. FIRE’s letter to Gupta and Fox 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.

“Gupta’s shockingly shortsighted and unconstitutional media shutdown denied his constituents a forum for discussing the controversy that engulfed UCSD’s campus,” said Will Creeley, FIRE’s Director of Legal and Public Advocacy. “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.”

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 are described at thefire.org.

CONTACT:

Robert Shibley, Vice President, FIRE: 215-717-3473, robert@thefire.org
Marye Anne Fox, Chancellor, University of California, San Diego: 858-534-3135, chancellor@ucsd.edu
Utsav Gupta, President, Associated Students of UCSD: 858-534-4452, aspresident@ucsd.edu

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