University of Southern California (USC) student senator Jacob Ellenhorn will not be paid the final installment of his stipend for serving on the student senate. Ellenhorn defeated an attempt to impeach him for his role in arranging a campus lecture featuring Milo Yiannopoulos, Breitbart’s controversial tech editor, but was stripped of his final stipend payment by a 9–2 vote by his fellow student senators.
- “did not utilize the proper procedures when scheduling meetings with students who felt offended by the Women’s Student Assembly,”
- “violate[d] the USC Code of Ethics by bringing in Milo Yiannopoulos, a speaker who perpetuated inflammatory claims and created a hostile environment that detracted from healthy debate,” and
- “disobeyed filming codes for a Program Board event.”
Ellenhorn was found guilty under all three charges, but his fellow senators did not have the two-thirds majority vote necessary to remove him from office. Instead, his student senate colleagues decided to punish him by voting to withhold the final $250 of his $2,000 stipend.
Revealing that their verdict and punishment was in retribution for inviting controversial viewpoints onto campus, the student senate released a statement expressing their “hopes that ‘this decision serves as [a] model for the whole organization to promote intellectually diverse dialogue without partisan bias and alienation.’”
Ellenhorn released his own statement via Twitter:
— Jacob Ellenhorn (@JacobEllenhorn) March 25, 2016
But it is not the proper role of the student senate to decide what viewpoints are permissible on campus and which are unwelcome. Moreover, if speakers that present “partisan bias” are unwelcome, wouldn’t nearly all political figures be excluded from speaking on campus? This petty response by the USC Student Government Senate to a controversial speaker’s invitation is inconsistent with the value of free speech and likely to send a chilling message to anyone who might dare to invite a controversial speaker to campus in the future. As representatives of the student body, student senators have a moral obligation to defend the rights of students wherever they fall on the political spectrum. That includes students’ right to invite and hear from speakers whose views others might find too partisan or alienating. The $250 fine will do little damage to Ellenhorn’s finances, as he has indicated that he was planning on donating the money to the Wounded Warriors Project and that he still intends to do so even if the money comes out of his own pocket. But unless the decision is reversed, it will do irreparable damage to the cause of free speech on campus. The students at USC deserve representation that respects their basic rights. For his part, Ellenhorn has pinned the following tweet to his Twitter page, vowing not to be silenced:
I will not stand down. I will not be quiet. pic.twitter.com/nxLB4EBtBR
— Jacob Ellenhorn (@JacobEllenhorn) March 12, 2016