University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) Professor Mireille Miller-Young has pled no contest to misdemeanor charges of vandalism, theft, and battery with respect to an incident in March during which she stole an on-campus anti-abortion protester’s sign and fought back physically when the protester tried to retrieve it.
As FIRE reported at the time, video footage of the incident was posted to YouTube and shows Miller-Young unapologetically walking away with the sign, as well as the altercation between Miller-Young and the protester, 16-year-old Thrin Short.
As a professor at a public university bound by the First Amendment, Miller-Young’s behavior is worthy of criticism—not only because it resulted in criminal charges, but also because it was a blatant act of censorship. So while it is good to see that Miller-Young will probably be subjected to some punishment (to be determined on August 14), it is not at all clear that she or the administration at UCSB fully appreciates the nature of the problem.
UCSB Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael D. Young emailed a statement out to students on March 19, asserting a commitment to freedom of expression. Unfortunately, the statement largely focused on his opposition to many who visit the UCSB campus to share their viewpoints. First Amendment advocates criticized Young for not providing unequivocal support for free speech rights. Recently, The Daily Caller reported that “[t]o date, the UC Santa Barbara administration has not commented publicly about the charges or issued any sort of apology for the crimes Miller-Young does not contest committing.” And according to the Santa Barbara Independent, Miller-Young remains employed by UCSB.
This gives UCSB students good reason to be concerned about their First Amendment rights on campus. Regardless of the criminal charges’ resolution, UCSB must make clear to Miller-Young and the rest of the university community that if an observer disagrees with a message being expressed on campus, the best response is to add a different viewpoint to the discussion. Censorship is not an acceptable answer, especially not from a professor who is obligated to uphold free speech rights, and especially not when paired with theft and battery.
FIRE hopes to soon see Young and the UCSB administration publicly recognize the necessity of protecting First Amendment rights on campus.