Rights in the News: FIRE on Front Lines as Free Speech Saga Unfolds at UCSD

February 27, 2010

Readers of The Torch this week have been treated to a blow-by-blow account of the First Amendment meltdown taking place at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). In case you’re not up to speed on the happenings at UCSD, however, here’s a brief rundown:

  • A Facebook invitation for an off-campus  "Compton Cookout" party that used African-American stereotypes has aroused heated and widespread controversy. Reportedly, the party was to promote the most recent DVD from a self-proclaimed "Internet star radio personality."
  • Although the invitation, as offensive as it is to many students, is protected by the First Amendment, UCSD has left open the possibility that the students involved may be punished and has launched an "aggressive investigation" into the proceedings following pressure from members of California’s State Legislature, one of whom specifically "want[ed] names" to facilitate students’ expulsion.

  • After students from the UCSD publication The Koala made statements on Student Run Television (SRTV) in defense of the invitation, one of them using a racial slur that many found highly offensive and hurtful, Associated Students of UCSD (ASUCSD) President Utsav Gupta unilaterally froze the funding for all 33 student media organizations, and forced SRTV off the air on the pretext of a paperwork technicality. In many public statements, Gupta has made clear that these actions were specifically because of the content of the broadcast.
  • At a special meeting this week, ASUCSD not only upheld the freeze, but Gupta made little secret of the fact that he wants The Koala banned from UCSD once and for all because of its expression, and certainly does not want certain expression to be funded by the university at all. Although some student media organizations have suggested a threat to sue to defend their rights, Gupta said he is working with UCSD attorneys and is willing to risk a lawsuit.

As of now, there is no free press at UCSD. Chancellor Marye Anne Fox has allowed Gupta’s blatantly unconstitutional censorship to continue, despite heated criticism (and three letters apiece) from FIRE and the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties (as reported by California Watch’s Erica Perez and here in the UCSD student paper The Guardian). FIRE, of course, will not stop until the First Amendment is restored at UCSD, and will continue to keep Torch readers in the know. Meanwhile, visit UCSD’s case page, keep reading our blog entries, and write to Chancellor Fox and President Gupta and let them know you won’t stand for UCSD’s treatment of the First Amendment. Many thanks to the several dozen of you who have done so already.

While all of this has gone on at UCSD, a number of other campus papers seem to be noticing their own speech policies and the various protections given (or denied) them by their universities. Cal Poly’s paper The Mustang Daily covered Adam’s recent visit, where he discussed Cal Poly’s many altercations with FIRE and the First Amendment. The Temple News of Temple University has a story this week on FIRE’s recent victory on behalf of a student group stuck with an extra security fee for an event featuring Dutch politician Geert Wilders. The Spartan Daily at San Jose State University covers the recent change in a residence hall harassment policy, prompted by FIRE’s concerns. The Spectator of Valdosta State University, The Flat Hat of William and Mary, and The Red and Black of the University of Georgia likewise muse this week about the various policies in place on their campuses. (While we’re on the topic of speech codes, give FIRE Co-founder and Chairman Harvey Silverglate’s recent Minding the Campus essay a read, in which Harvey discusses his take on how the speech code mindset has crept into the rest of our justice system.)

It’s probably a coincidence to see so many college papers considering their colleges’ speech policies while all hell is breaking loose at UCSD. Regardless, a crisis like the one engulfing the UCSD community is a perfect time to check out what’s going on in your own backyard.

Schools:  University of California, San Diego

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