By Madeline Will at Student Press Law Center
The controversial Koala student humor publication has printed a new issue after raising $1,000 in a crowdfunding campaign after its funding — along with 12 other student media outlets’ — was eliminated in a broad-stroke measure motivated by the magazine’s notorious shock-value humor.
The Koala had published an article in November containing racial slurs, which prompted a statement from University of California-San Diego administrators that denounced the magazine for the “offensive and hurtful language it chooses to publish.” The statement called on UCSD students, faculty, staff and community members to “join us in condemning this publication and other hurtful acts.”
Within a day, the student government association eliminated funding for all active student-funded media outlets on campus. The independent student newspaper The Guardian reported that student government leaders said they could not legally discriminate against one specific publication so they had to defund all student publications.
The student government had allocated $452.80 to the Koala in the winter 2016 term. To print its next issue after the funding cut, the Koala turned to donors — and raised $1,000 in less than 24 hours, the publication posted on Facebook.
The issue that went to print mocks administrators and student government representatives with homophobic, racist, ethnic and sexist slurs. In a letter, Gabriel Cohen, the Koala’s editor-in-chief dedicated the issue to UCSD administrators and the Associated Students Council.
“I’d like to take this chance to thank both the administration and A.S. for giving us so much damn publicity. I mean, shit, I’ve done at least twenty interviews, we have lawyers flocking to our meetings begging to take our case, we’ve raised enough money to fund our paper until sun death comes in 5 billion years, and our staff has nearly doubled,” Cohen wrote. “Without your idiocy, The Koala could have never become so successful in such a short period of time.”
Free-speech organizations have been quick to condemn the budget cut as unconstitutional. The Student Press Law Center sent a letter of concern on Monday to UCSD Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. Executive Director Frank LoMonte wrote that the sweeping cut, while “camouflaged,” was still unlawful and “incurably infected with an impermissible content-based motivation.”
“While the target of the university’s antagonism is The Koala, the brunt of this decision will fall on wholly blameless students unconnected with that publication, whose ability to share ideas has been stunted by the student government association’s ‘burn the village’ approach,” LoMonte wrote. “To be clear, our primary concern is not with The Koala itself, but with the proposition that government officials (and in particular, elected officeholders) can sit in judgement on the content of publications and decide which meet their subjective taste standards to receive funding.”
Last week, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education also sent a letter to Khosla that stated that the UCSD administration is obligated to intervene and correct the student government’s constitutional violation. The letter ended by saying that FIRE was “committed to using all of the resources at our disposal to see this matter through to a just conclusion.”