Free speech: UCSB reimburses College Republicans
October 13, 2011
by Bob Egelko
San Francisco Chronicle
Under pressure from a conservative free-speech group, University of California officials have reimbursed campus Republicans in Santa Barbara for hosting a speaker who claims Muslim extremists and left-wingers are infiltrating the classroom.
The UC Santa Barbara student government balked at the Republican group's request for $1,800 to pay for conservative author David Horowitz's appearance, but school officials eventually acknowledged their legal duty to provide equal funding for speakers regardless of their views, said a spokesman for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
"You can't make a viewpoint-related decision about speakers" at a state-run college, the foundation's Adam Kissel said Wednesday.
He said the U.S. Supreme Court defined the constitutional standards in 2000 when it ruled against students at University of Wisconsin who objected to use of part of their student fees for political activities they disliked. The unanimous decision said such fees are legal as long as a school uses "viewpoint neutrality" in its funding decisions.
The Santa Barbara episode comes in the wake of another controversy over politics and free speech on campus, the criminal convictions of 10 UC Irvine students last month for disrupting a public meeting by heckling the Israeli ambassador during a speech in February 2010.
Santa Barbara's College Republicans sought funding for a planned speech by Horowitz in May on topics that included, according to the Republican group's president, "Islamic extremism in our universities and the liberal indoctrination happening in the classrooms."
During a May 4 debate in the Associated Students Legislative Council, according to minutes quoted by Kissel's group, one member said the speech wouldn't be an educational event because Horowitz "belittles students and professors," while another asked the Republicans whether they couldn't have chosen a more constructive speaker.
After the council voted to approve only $800 in funding, FIRE protested to the chancellor's office, which eventually allocated the full $1,800, Kissel said. Horowitz spoke on May 26 as scheduled.
"UCSB ultimately did the right thing ... but now it must take steps to ensure that its student government never again violates the First Amendment rights of a student organization," Kissel said.
Katya Armistead, the university's assistant dean of students, said Wednesday, "We are glad that this issue is resolved and that all parties are satisfied."