Free Speech Victory at UC Santa Barbara

October 13, 2011

Editor’s note: The following is a press release from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving civil liberties in higher education. The press release marks a hard-won victory for First Amendment rights on campus, which was achieved at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), but carries implications that extend far beyond the university.

Last spring, UCSB’s Associated Students Finance Board denied a funding request made by the College Republicans to host David Horowitz​, president of the Freedom Center. This denial was the product of viewpoint discrimination and is illegal due to Supreme Court rulings on the First Amendment that prohibit political discrimination in the distribution of student funds. The denial was rescinded, but due to an uproar from the campus Left, the amount allocated was decreased — which is also unconstitutional. Award amounts cannot be dictated by political considerations either. After pressure was brought to bear over this wrong-doing, the university ultimately over-ruled Associated Students’ funding malfeasance.

This victory demonstrates that funding discrimination for conservative speakers — a practice that is widespread in American universities — can be fought and defeated. Universities that receive public funds cannot systematically deny conservative students the funding privileges available to left-wing students in any way. This includes the lavish fees required for far-left speakers, which are often tens of thousands of dollars more than what is awarded to conservative students. When David Horowitz spoke at the University of Wisconsin in 2004, for example, students informed him that Michael Moore had been invited to speak there and was given $50,000 to do so. By law, if the College Republicans at that university were to ask for the same amount to invite their own conservative speaker, the university would be obligated to give it to them. UCSB should serve as a wake-up call to marginalized conservative students: fight for your rights on campus, because the law is behind you.

LOS ANGELES, October 10, 2011—Officials at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) have stepped in after its student government unconstitutionally denied funding for a speech by conservative activist David Horowitz. The student government had engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination on two separate occasions and then tried to hide the evidence of its wrongdoing. The College Republicans, Horowitz’s hosts, came to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.

“UCSB’s student government utterly refused to fulfill its constitutional duty to be viewpoint-neutral in its funding decisions,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “Thankfully, USCB has finally rectified this error and saved itself from an embarrassing and inevitably doomed fight against the First Amendment.”

In May, UCSB’s Associated Students Finance Board denied a request from the UCSB College Republicans (CRs) for $2,000 to host conservative activist David Horowitz for a speaking event. On May 3, Lucy Nguyen, Associated Students liaison to the CRs, explained that “the board believes that the dialogue between Horowitz and UCSB students will not be a constructive one.” Supreme Court precedent, however, does not allow student fee funding decisions to be based on the student government’s opinion of that speaker’s views or fears about the “dialogue” that might ensue.

The CRs appealed to the Associated Students Legislative Council (ASLC), which heard the appeal on May 4. Several ASLC members provided further blatantly unconstitutional reasons for voting against any allocation for the event, as reported in the meeting minutes:

  • “I believe the statements should be founded in fact and there’s a difference between that and completely outlandish statements. … If there were intelligent discourse with David, then great, but this is not the case. He will go on a rant about people that he doesn’t agree with or like.”
  • “My only reservation with bringing Horowitz is that it would be an educational event. David belittles students and professors and will only anger folks.”
  • “Do you think the idea of free speech jeopardizes the safety of students on the campus?”
  • “Couldn’t you [the CRs] have chosen someone who better represents your minority group in a constructive manner?”
  • “Not funding their [the CRs’] event is not making them feel like they are not included in this campus. Being a political[] minority is WAY different than a structural minority.”

Although the ASLC allocated $1,100 for the event, an outcry from the audience at the meeting led the ASLC to reopen the debate and allocate only $800. The ASLC also voted to hide the Finance Board’s discussion from the public record.

FIRE wrote UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang on May 6 and June 7, detailing the utter failure of student government members to vote on a viewpoint-neutral basis, in violation of the First Amendment. On June 21, Campus Counsel Nancy Greenan Hamill replied to FIRE, claiming that the CRs had been allocated $1,100, but the CRs’ official Fund Audit Report showed no such allocation.

UCSB administrators provided FIRE and CRs President Steven Begakis with conflicting information for months until, finally, on October 6, UCSB Assistant Dean of Students Katya Armistead produced a document demonstrating that UCSB had put $1,800 in the CRs’ account.

“The months it took for UCSB administrators to get their own story straight just compounded the problem caused by the student government,” FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel said. “UCSB ultimately did the right thing by making the CRs whole, but it must now take steps to ensure that its student government never again violates the First Amendment rights of a student organization.”

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, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America are described at

Adam Kissel, Vice President of Programs, FIRE: 215-717 3473;
Henry T. Yang, Chancellor, University of California, Santa Barbara: 805-893-2231;

Schools: University of California, Santa Barbara Cases: University of California, Santa Barbara: Viewpoint Discrimination in Student Activity Funding