the editor's soapbox: Get up, UCSD, or face consequences

    UCSD currently enrolls 20,212 undergraduate students. Of those 20,212 well-educated movers and shakers, I’m willing to bet that a scant few know of recent instances in which the administration has cheaply tried to gut students’ rights on this campus. And I’ve begun to wonder if those who do know even care.

    As co-editor-in-chief of the Guardian, I have caught wind of, and have helped publish, numerous articles about these instances. Often when 11,000 copies of the big news were being printed for a Monday or Thursday morning, I wondered if — maybe finally — UCSD would read the paper the next day, and someone — anyone! — would stand up for students’ fundamental rights at UCSD after reading our paper.

    After a year of publishing, I’m still wondering whether UCSD will ever stand up. One thing that’s clear, however, is that the administration certainly isn’t afraid to.

    This year, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Joseph Watson hasn’t hesitated to take a stand in the name of his “”causes.”” Take, for example, his all-campus e-mail sent during fall quarter, which condemned humor publication The Koala “”on behalf of the UCSD community”” and called its contents an “”abuse of the fundamental right to free speech.””

    Of those of us who actually use our UCSD e-mail accounts, many were likely to have seen that e-mail. But where were the demonstrations to protest the fact that Watson had taken it upon himself to condemn anything on our behalf?

    Furthermore, remember that the “”on your behalf”” condemnation came from the guy who refused to allow the obviously in-demand beer garden to be a part of Muirstock and the UCSD-UC Davis rival basketball game. Does this sound like the type of campus official you feel comfortable having speak on your behalf? If so, congratulate yourself on being one reason this campus is so dead most of the time, barring the annual Sun God festival.

    Moreover, did anyone who read Watson’s condemnation wonder, “”What the hell is ‘an abuse of free speech?'”” It is undeniable that students either have the freedom to print their opinions (or jokes, for that matter) on this campus, or they don’t; if a horde of people find such opinions or jokes to be repulsive, that still doesn’t indicate that any abuse of free speech has occurred.

    That I heard so few students make such arguments, or even criticize Watson’s e-mail in any manner, leaves me wondering what it will take to get UCSD’s head out of its ass.

    For all we know, Watson could condemn any on-campus publication “”on behalf of the UCSD community.”” If he did, would UCSD still not care? Where does the buck stop, Watson? Moreover, where does the buck stop, UCSD? Forgive me for being preachy, but our fundamental rights are in danger collectively when free speech is condemned — and redefined, reactionary-style — from above.

    In the end, I hope that UCSD would have been fired up about Watson’s language if only because it indicates that the administration has no fear of students. At many campuses, deeming an unpopular article of a humor publication an abuse of free speech wouldn’t be an option (think UC Berkeley — or any university with a graduate journalism school or a law school, for that matter). However, Watson’s e-mail shows that we have convinced the administration of our apathy to the point where we are expected to peacefully and willingly swallow such blatant offenses. Our lack of revolt at the e-mail likely further solidified this notion.

    But is this message of utter apathy one that UCSD students truly intend to send to our administration? All signs say it is.

    To those who doubt my evaluation, I must point out that this isn’t just someone interested in journalism freaking out about her fragile right to free speech at a public university. Take, for example, an equally intolerable issue concerning students’ rights — and an issue equally tolerated by the student body: Since fall 2000, if accused of academic dishonesty, students are not allowed to be represented by legal counsel during their trial.

    Although students may receive legal advice prior to the hearing, in the heat of the actual hearing — which is, of course, the moment when legal help could make the most difference for an accused and likely nervous student — no such resources are allowed into the picture. In the end, if an accused student can’t think on his feet, the administration allows him to rest at an extreme disadvantage to those blessed pre-law kids.

    Admittedly, the extent to which students’ rights are obliterated by this rule depends on who students must argue against when forced to represent themselves at academic dishonesty trials: Are they up against other students, who act as the prosecution? Or are they up against the administration’s lawyers?

    Frighteningly enough, let there be light on the fact that professors who have accused students of academic dishonesty are “”encouraged to present their own case to the Hearing Board”” and “”usually”” do so, according to Student Policies and Judicial Affairs’ “”Instructors’ Guide for Preventing and Processing Incidents of Academic Dishonesty.”” Side note: Student Policies and Judicial Affairs does not provide a “”Students’ Guide for Preventing and Defending Against Accusations of Academic Dishonesty.””

    That professors typically represent themselves in such hearings leaves one very nerve-wracking possibility: An accused student, depending on who the accuser is, could be forced to face off against such individuals as political science professor Peter Irons — who, I might add, has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and went to Harvard University Law School. I rest my case on this point.

    Still, there is another indiscretion behind UCSD’s “”no lawyers”” policy that deserves attention and has received little. There are few other hearings, trials or judicial procedures I know of — and let the letters to the editor correct me by the dozens if I am wrong — in which the accused may be denied the right to be represented by an attorney.

    Furthermore, Student Policies and Judicial Affairs Director Nick Aguilar inserted this no-lawyers clause into the UCSD Student Conduct Code after other universities ran into trouble when students on trial brought qualified attorneys into the picture.

    Conclusion: The administration and Aguilar seem to have banned lawyers from representing students in academic dishonesty hearings because they are wholly afraid of UCSD’s “”judicial”” proceedings being subject to the legal world’s strict scrutiny.

    That being said, I’m left wondering how UCSD’s Student Policies and Judicial Affairs office can singlehandedly override the perhaps fundamental right to an attorney. Let’s just say I’m waiting for the day that an accused student calls the American Civil Liberties Union about this before heading to trial.

    That no accused student has done this so far (to my perhaps limited knowledge, at least) only brings the apathy of our student body further into the limelight: If we fail to care about unethical judicial proceedings in which our reputations and educations are at stake, how might one retain any hope for the mood of our students toward university officials and their parental policies?

    I guess one might reason that spending time addressing these topics could jeopardize a student’s precious grade point average, GRE/MCAT/LSAT/DAT scores or reputation among friends. Or maybe students’ involvement with one or two organizations has prevented their willingness to address issues seemingly unrelated to their group’s purpose.

    But whether we’re “”Mr. or Ms. Involved”” or the bioengineering student who rarely leaves Geisel Library, these issues and this apathy relate to all of us. If you’re still wondering why or how, UCSD is in deeper trouble than I thought.

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