UCSD Student Leaders Criticized for Cutting Media Funds

December 7, 2015

By Gary Warth at The San Diego Union-Tribune

— UC San Diego’s Associated Student Council’s decision to cut funding to student-run campus publications last month has sparked a backlash against the organization, with alumni and UCLA the latest to weigh in.

The council voted on Nov. 18 to cut funding to the publications that receive funds from student fees. This year that amount was about $15,000, which went to Fashion Quarterly, the Muir Quarterly, the Saltman Quarterly and The Koala, an often controversial, raunchy humor magazine that critics have called racist.

While all campus publications were affected, the action was seen by many as targeting The Koala.

The student newspaper the Guardian published an editorial Nov. 24 questioning the timing and method of the vote, which came the same day UC San Diego administrators posted an online denouncement of The Koala as “profoundly repugnant, repulsive, attacking and cruel. “

“The UC San Diego administration does not provide any financial support for the Koala, and we call on all students, faculty, staff and community members to join us in condemning this publication and other hurtful acts,” read the statement, which was signed by Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, Executive Vice Chancellor Suresh Subramani and eight others vice chancellors.

A.S. Council President Dominick Suvonnasupa said Monday that the statement had no influence on the vote.

“Honestly, it was just coincidentally,” said Suvonnasupa, adding that the vote would have happened anyway.

Because the council must be neutral in its decisions to fund student publications and events, it could not deny money to just The Koala while funding other publications.

In its coverage of the vote, the Guardian reported Muir Quarterly editor Andrew Deneris as among those who saw the council’s action as directed at the Koala, but causing collateral damage to other publications.

Suvonnasupa insists that the vote was not about The Koala, but was only about addressing the most efficient use of student funds.

“I do stand by my decision,” he said about the vote, which he sees as ensuring publications are independent. “Having the media be the media and A.S. be A.S. works well.”

Since the decision, other organizations from outside UC San Diego have taken note of the council’s action.

UCLA’s student newspaper the Daily Bruin published a Dec. 3 editorial saying student government should not use its authority to restrict The Koala’s freedom of press while endangering the financial well-being of other publications.

The Daily Bruin also questioned the effectiveness of the action, since The Koala reported that it has raised $1,000 of its annual $3,000 budget since the vote, while the Muir Quarterly has reported that it will cut its editions from seven to four times a year.

The College Fix, a conservative student-run news site, reported the council’s action as saying UC San Diego had demonstrated its values by favoring a “failing Marxist-inspired café “ (the Che Café) over a student tabloid that has been called offensive and hurtful.

The Student Press Law Center also reported on the issue, but hasn’t taken a position.

Thirty five alumni, including former student leaders and editors of student-run publications, have written a letter to Suvonnasupa and Khosla asking the council to reverse its decision.

“Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are critical to maintaining an open, healthy, and free society,” the letter read. “At UCSD in particular, on-campus media organizations have a long and rich history of holding those in positions of power accountable, including the administration and the student government.”

Alec Weisman, a 2011 UC San Diego graduate who edited the libertarian conservative California Review while at the school, drafted the letter and said the issue was similar to another controversy when he was a student.

“My first reaction was, ‘Oh no, here we go again,’” said Weisman.

Following a controversy involving The Koala in 2010, the then-A.S. Council president froze funding to 33 publications.

Weisman and other students worked with the American Civil Liberties Union and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to get funding restored within months. At that time, the groups argued that the cuts were unfair because they do not affect all student publications.

Weisman said he has not yet reached out to the ACLU or FIRE to help in the latest controversy.

It’s unclear what sparked the administration to post the denouncement of The Koala last month, although it did come after the magazine printed an article satirizing “safe spaces” on campus and repeatedly using the “N” word.

Koala editor Gabe Cohen declined to comment on Monday, citing a Koala policy to not grant interviews unless given beer in exchange.

The Guardian earlier reported that Cohen had called the council’s action troubling and “a slippery slope in the direction of anti-intellectualism and paternalism that should have no place on this campus.”

Schools: University of California, San Diego Cases: University of California at San Diego: Censorship of Student Satire Magazine