Santa Monica College: Administrators Influence Cancelation of Theatre Class Play


Santa Monica College

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Case Overview

FIRE Victory closed

On October 18, 2023, two nights before a scheduled theater-class performance of By the River Rivanna, Santa Monica College administrators intervened to interview students about the play, allegedly because administrators were uncomfortable with the subject matterThe next night, administrators had students privately vote on whether to proceed as scheduled, delay the performance a week, or cancel altogether. When the majority voted to continue, administrators conducted a second vote asking if the play should be invite-only. While a majority voted to proceed as invite-only, cast members felt it would be impossible to continue without the entire team, and thus opted to abandon the show. FIRE wrote SMC on October 20 asking it to allow the performance to go on and to cease unduly interfering with student expressive events and faculty academic freedom. 

In its October 23 response, SMC said that faculty and students together decided to halt the production. On November 1, FIRE urged SMC to confirm it would cease unduly influencing students and violating its faculty’s right to assign materials like By the River Rivanna, and to allow the show to continue if the students so desired. On November 13, SMC responded by denying administrators unduly interfered with the First Amendment rights of students and faculty. Following that response, FIRE filed a public records request and obtained evidence of administrative pressure on students to cancel. On February 23, 2024, FIRE asked SMC to train its administrators on their legal obligations regarding student and faculty First Amendment rights, and SMC agreed to do so on March 6.