Victory for Free Speech on UCSD Campus
Last night, the Associated Students Council at the University of California, San Diego voted to end an unconstitutional freeze on student media funding. In a victory for the First Amendment, the vote reinstates the funding process for student media organizations under existing, viewpoint-neutral rules. The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, FIRE, the Student Press Law Center, and Center for Campus Free Speech opposed the funding freeze and supported the students who successfully fought it.
On February 19, the student president, Utsav Gupta, announced that he unilaterally froze funding to all student media organizations in retaliation for certain content broadcast by one student group. No matter how lofty his motivations, Gupta’s actions unlawfully punished all student media organizations for the viewpoint expressed by one. When a university allocates funding to student groups to promote diverse viewpoints, as does UCSD, the First Amendment prohibits the university – or student government – from retaliating because of the viewpoint expressed by any student group. The speech of such student groups is private speech, not government speech, and censorship cannot be justified on the ground that the student speech is attributable to the university.
Gupta also illegally singled out the student press. Numerous UCSD student organizations that receive funding engage in speech, much of which could be considered controversial, including an “Armenian Genocide Commemoration,” an event titled “Wedding Between UC San Diego and Military Industrial Complex,” the “Justice in Palestine Week 2010,” events sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine, “The Vagina Monologues,” and a screening of “For Liberty: Ron Paul Revolution Documentary.” Yet the student government froze only student media funding, not all student organization funding. The First Amendment prohibits this kind of discrimination against the student press.
“While I would have been fully prepared to defend the First Amendment in court, I’m glad that the Council followed the law, for now,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. “But the ACLU will closely monitor any further efforts to undermine freedom of the student press and will not hesitate to pursue litigation if necessary. UCSD has real problems, but censorship is not the answer.”