SAN DIEGO, February 23, 2010—The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and its student government have violated the First Amendment by freezing funds for 33 student media organizations, dissolving the student-run television station, and threatening to punish students involved in a controversy over a party invitation for an event called the “Compton Cookout.” Student government president Utsav Gupta has explained that his repressive actions were due to “fracturing of the student body on an issue” and “hateful speech.” Further, under pressure from state legislators who seek to punish protected speech, UCSD has launched “aggressive investigations” into the party invitation. After many students came to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help, FIRE has written two letters to UCSD defending the First Amendment both on and off campus.
“UCSD is detracting from its message of moral outrage by committing so many violations of the First Amendment,” said FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley. “UCSD now must undo the damage to free speech and resist the pressure to punish protected expression.”
The invitation for the February 15 party, which first appeared on social networking site Facebook, celebrated racial stereotypes, asked female partygoers to dress as “ghetto chicks,” and invited partygoers to “experience the various elements of life in the ghetto.” The party reportedly was a DVD release party organized by “Jiggaboo Jones,” an African-American “shock jock”-style performer whose persona relies on deliberately provocative and offensive expression. Members of UCSD fraternities reportedly were involved in organizing the event.
Last week, several members of the California State Legislature called for the investigation and punishment of those students involved. Among the elected officials urging punishment for protected speech were Speaker-elect John A. Pérez, Speaker Karen Bass, and most of all Assemblymember Isadore Hall, III, who “want[s] names” and suspensions or expulsions. UCSD did not rule out punishment and has announced “aggressive investigations” into possible disciplinary violations.
FIRE’s letter today to UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox points out that the investigation of protected speech is likely a violation of the First Amendment rights of those investigated and urges the school to announce that it will never investigate protected speech.
This is not the only violation of the First Amendment on UCSD’s campus. Last Thursday, student organization The Koala broadcast a defense of the party on UCSD’s Student Run Television (SRTV), including language that many persons on campus found highly offensive. In response, student government president Utsav Gupta took immediate action to shut down the broadcast and then the entire station because the broadcast was “deeply offensive and hurtful.”
On February 19, Gupta stated publicly that “[w]e will only open [SRTV] again when we can be sure that such hateful content can never be aired again on our student funded TV station.”
Gupta also unilaterally froze the funding for 33 student media organizations because of the content of The Koala‘s expression, stating that he was compelled to act because such expression was “fracturing … the student body on an issue.” A Facebook group opposing the “mass censorship” currently has more than 1,100 members.
FIRE’s letter yesterday to Gupta and Fox points out that these actions violate the constitutional rights of the organizations involved, not least because the student government, Associated Students of UCSD (ASUCSD), is an agent of UCSD and is thus bound by the First Amendment.
“In the name of protecting students from controversial speech, President Gupta has suppressed expression throughout the campus and has alienated hundreds of students, even those who share his moral outrage at the party invitation,” said Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “UCSD and ASUCSD must immediately restore access to funding for all organizations, put SRTV back on the air, follow the official procedures for handling complaints at SRTV, refrain from investigating or punishing protected speech both on and off campus, and publicly announce that protected speech will never be investigated.”
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, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America are described at thefire.org.
TAKE ACTION: Tell UCSD to focus on its own message and stop violating individual rights. Send a letter to UCSD officials here.
Adam Kissel, Director, Individual Rights Defense Program, FIRE: 215-717-3473, firstname.lastname@example.org
Marye Anne Fox, Chancellor, University of California, San Diego: 858-534-3135, email@example.com
Utsav Gupta, President, Associated Students of UCSD: 858-534-4452, firstname.lastname@example.org