A.S. Council and university administrators received letters from four different entities in the last month requesting a reversal of the vote to defund print media. The American Civil Liberty Union, the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education, the Student Press Law Center and a group composed of UCSD alumni and former campus leaders each denounced Council’s vote, with some even threatening litigation.
A.S. Council faces litigation threats from ACLU, as well as possible consequences from FIRE, if they fail to review their decision to defund print media. Although there is no pending legal action against UCSD or A.S. Council, the groups argue that the student government’s decision to defund media violates the First Amendment. They claim that all media publications were defunded in an effort to directly target one controversial media outlet, known as The Koala.
ACLU Communications representative Anna Castro told the UCSD Guardian that failure to reinstate funding will force the ACLU to take legal action.
“The ACLU has not yet made the decision to file a lawsuit in this case,” Castro said. “Litigation may become unnecessary if the A.S. Council reverses its decision or the UCSD administration overrides it.”
A.S. President Dominick Suvonnasupa told the Guardian that they are prepared to respond to a lawsuit. If necessary, UCSD’s campus counsel will represent them.
“During the Week 10 meeting, we did have a discussion on this topic, but no changes were made,” Suvonnasupa said. “I am not aware of any plans to reverse council’s decision.”
Castro specified that the student government violated the First Amendment in two direct ways with their recent actions. First of all, she said that the Council showed bias against the press by choosing to defund student media without cutting funds to other groups. Secondly, she argued they defunded all student publications in order to silence The Koala.
Suvonnasupa, however, stated the issue is about funding resources and not free speech. He explained that A.S. Council is still offering up to five types of financial support for media organizations, including funding for programming, operating, events, tournaments, competitions and interest free programming loans. He also emphasized the importance of creating a better campus climate in which students can feel welcome and safe.
“It is important to note that A.S. [Council] is not involved in making the rules and regulations of becoming a CSI registered student organization,” Suvonnasupa said. “Thus, what A.S. [Council] decided was to discontinue the type of funding formerly known as Media Funding. This is not the same as discontinuing funds to media organizations.”
Although the specific category of Media Funding is no longer available, there are still funding options available for student media through A.S. Council.
Still, others have voiced concerns that there may be a ripple effect of defunding media. Peter Bonilla, Director of FIRE, expressed that the decision may have detrimental, long-term consequences.
“The Koala isn’t the only publication that sparks controversy among its campus population, and if the A.S. Council faces no consequences for its unconstitutional action, other student governments may utilize similar tactics when trying to eliminate unpopular publications of their own,” Bonilla told the Guardian.
He also stressed the importance of protecting First Amendment rights for all student groups as a way to support minorities threatened by controversial publications such as The Koala.
“The student government is certainly free, if it wishes, to condemn The Koala if it finds the publication’s content repellent and create its own programming in response,” Bonilla said. “But one of the best things the student government can be doing, unfortunately, is that very thing it has refused to do, which is to protect the First Amendment rights of all the student organizations it recognizes and funds — including those which are critical of The Koala.”
On Nov. 18. Members of A.S. Council voted to remove Section 2.4 D, E and F from the Associated Students’ constitution, which allocated financial support for UCSD media publications.