SAN DIEGO (CN) — A federal judge this week dismissed a satirical student newspaper’s claim against officials at the University of California at San Diego for canceling its print budget after complaints poured in about its stories.
The Koala, whose motto is “The Worst in Collegiate Journalism Since 1982!” lost its funding from the Associated Students of UCSD in 2015 when the group canceled its support for print publications. The newspaper sued Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, Associated Students of UCSD president Daniel Juarez, and Associated Students financial controller Justin Pennish, claiming First Amendment violations.
The defunding followed a massive wave of criticism of a Nov. 15, 2015 story, “UCSD Unveils New Dangerous Space on Campus.” The story mocked UCSD’s new “safe spaces” where students are supposedly given shelter from anything they might deem insensitive; it used word “nigger” five times.
“Located in the center of Library Walk, the new Dangerous Space is the ideal place for students to do whatever the hell they want,” the story said, then quoted a fictitious “typical” Asian student named “F. Yu” who enjoyed necrophilia.
The day after the story ran, UCSD administrators denounced it, and called for the community to condemn the “profoundly repugnant, repulsive, attacking and cruel” paper. Hours after the administration’s condemnation was posted on the internet, the UCSD Associated Student Council decided to cut funding to all student-run publications. According to the UCSD student newspaper The Guardian, Student Council President Dominick Suvonnasuna said the administrators’ condemnation had no bearing on the vote.
The Koala said in its lawsuit that the college had tried to shut it down for years. In 2002, UCSD tried to revoke its registration as a student organization after one of its members allegedly took photos of another student organization’s meeting and made fun of it.
And in 2010, all student print media were suspended after The Koala broadcast an invitation for an event called “The Compton Cookout,” and asked participants to wear chains, cheap clothes and be loud. Women were told to dress up like “ghetto chicks.” According to news reports at the time, that spurred outrage among the African-American community on campus.
In its latest edition, printed online in November, a story headlined “‘Black’ UCSD Protesters Shut Down La Jolla Mall” describes a Black Friday protest where white students painted themselves black and rioted at a local mall.
In dismissing the complaint without leave to amend, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller ruled that The Koala’s First Amendment rights were not violated and that the court lacked jurisdiction under the 11th Amendment, which protects states from being sued by private individuals in federal court.
As for the First Amendment, Miller said, the government may restrict speech in a limited public forum, so long as the restrictions are not based on viewpoint and are reasonable.
“Here, there is no doubt that the elimination of funding for all print publications is viewpoint neutral,” he wrote.
While the Koala argued that it could not be excluded from funding because other student groups received support for events, concerts and other forms of speech, Miller found that argument “not persuasive. … Such an expansive definition of the forum is not supported by the allegations.”
UC San Diego said in a statement that it “is pleased that the federal district court has dismissed all of the Koala's claims. The court found that the Associated Students did not violate the First Amendment or any other student rights. We believe that this is the right decision and hope that the court’s decision brings this case to a close.”
Representatives of The Koala did not respond to emails seeking comment. Their attorney David Loy, with the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties, could not immediately be reached for comment.
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