Unconstitutional Termination of UCSD Student Media Funding
As explained in a letter sent by the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, UCSD’s student council must reverse its unconstitutional decision to terminate funding for all student media because of a single article in The Koala, which is published by a student organization that receives funding from campus activity fees on the same basis as many other organizations.
On November 16, 2015, The Koala posted an article, “UCSD unveils new dangerous space on campus,” mocking ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘safe spaces,’ using language that is outrageous and offensive, including repugnant epithets.
Two days later, as it had a right to do, the UCSD administration denounced The Koala as “profoundly repugnant, repulsive, attacking and cruel” and called on the university community to join in condemning the publication.
Going beyond condemnation to censorship, the Associated Students of UCSD Council terminated all funding for student media on the same day, after speakers objected to supporting a viewpoint they despised.
In the letter, legal director David Loy noted the ACLU’s condemnation of the article in question, which understandably outraged students of color and others. As we have done in past similar circumstances, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties calls on UCSD to take concrete actions to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.
However, UCSD and its student government must also follow the First Amendment. No matter how repulsive, The Koala article is protected speech. In funding student organizations, the government, of which the Council is a part, may not discriminate against student media for any reason, nor may it take action based on the viewpoint of a single publication.
The ACLU calls on the Council to remember that freedom of speech is indivisible and essential to the struggle for equity. Many landmark civil rights decisions arose from attempts to suppress protests, demonstrations, and dissent. History teaches that the first victim of censorship is never the last. As recent events in Ferguson remind us, people of color continue to suffer censorship, which the ACLU went to court to defeat.
Freedom of speech remains a pillar to the movement for justice, and neither can or should be sacrificed to the other.