UCSD Bows to ACLU Lawsuit

Over a year after agreeing to revise its posting policy, UCSD continued to distribute an outdated version of the policy, which states that the content of postings in residence halls are not permitted to be offensive to any individual or group within the university community.

Last week, an e-mail was sent out notifying the campus community of the error, and clarifying that the new policy “”prohibits UCSD officials from engaging in any content-based censorship on the basis of the perceived offensiveness or discriminatory nature of the speech of materials posted on campus.””

In March 1999, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the university on behalf of Ben Shapiro, a Warren student who was ordered by the university to remove a sign from his residence hall window that stated, “”Fuck Netanyahu and Pinochet.””

The university agreed in August 1999 to rescind all existing policies relating to the distribution and posting of noncommercial flyers, posters and banners and to replace them with policies that prevent university administrators from censoring the content of these postings. The agreement was made in response to an order by federal district court judge John Rhoades.

In April 2000, the ACLU learned that the old policy was still being distributed, and the university promised to take immediate corrective action.

At the beginning of this academic year, Shapiro noticed that the old policy was still being distributed on campus.

He said he was shocked to see the old policy in this year’s student organization handbook.

Director of Student Affairs Nick Aguilar said the erroneous dissemination was an inadvertent oversight on the part of the staff at Student Organizations and Leadership Opportunities.

In addition, Shapiro noticed that the old policy was sent to the San Diego Supercomputer Center, something Shapiro only noticed because he happens to work there.

Jordan Budd, the ACLU attorney handling Shapiro’s case, sent a letter to the University of California, demanding that the university review everything distributed this year that might address posting policies and certify in writing to the ACLU any instances where the old policy has been distributed. Budd also demanded that the university replace all handbooks and documents containing the outdated policy with new versions containing the new policy, and to notify the entire university community in a hard-copy format of the errors and changes.

Christopher Patti, counsel for the University of California, responded saying that the university will comply with Budd’s request, except for notifying the entire campus community in hard-copy format of the changes. Patti said that the university would instead send the notice electronically, because hard-copy notification is “”far slower, less effective, less likely to actually reach members of the university community than electronic communication and would be unnecessarily costly.””

The university also agreed to a request from Budd to pay the ACLU $2,500 in legal costs.

Budd said he finds it inconceivable that the university still has not complied with the ruling of a federal judge.

“”At best, this conduct on the part of the university reflects a striking level of incompetence for a world-class institution of higher education. At worst, the university has blatantly defied an order from a federal court,”” Budd said. “”Either way, it is inexcusable.””

Budd went on to accuse the university of misrepresenting students’ Constitutionally guaranteed free-speech rights by failing to inform the community of the court-mandated policy revision.

“”Because of the university’s failure to meet its legal obligations, not only was the campus community given wrong information about the First Amendment rights of students, but the university — and the taxpayers who support it — have also unnecessarily paid for work and legal costs to correct the problem,”” he said. “”Someone should certainly be held accountable for this irresponsible behavior.””

Aguilar said the campus structure makes it difficult to uniformly distribute new policies.

“”It’s unfortunate that we had this oversight, but in the decentralized structure of UCSD it is not surprising that one out of hundreds of administrators involved in campus policy would commit this unfortunate error,”” he said. “”As soon as we became aware of this we took action.””

Budd said that while the case is near resolution, it will not be entirely resolved until the university certifies to the ACLU its review of all campus documents.