Last week, The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit claiming the University of California at San Diego and the Associated Students Council defunded student organizations in retaliation for a controversial article published by a satirical paper, The Koala.
The student paper, which has been published at UCSD since 1982, made fun of politically correct or “PC” culture last November in an article entitled, “UCSD Unveils News Dangerous Space on Campus.”
It mocked the use of “safe spaces,” repeatedly used the “N-word,” and mentioned the opening of a “dangerous space” to accommodate “individuals who do not like feeling safe…continuing the university’s theme of inclusion and equality.”
In a 22-3 vote on Nov. 18, the student government association eliminated funding for all 13 active student-funded media outlets on campus. Gabe Cohen, editor-in-chief of the satirical newspaper The Koala, known for its vulgar shock-value humor, said his publication is being targeted specifically.
The council’s vote came the same day UC San Diego administrators posted an online denouncement of The Koala as “profoundly repugnant, repulsive, attacking and cruel.”
Cohen criticized the budget cut, calling it as “thinly veiled censorship” aimed at The Koala in particular. He pointed out that The Koala’s $3,000 annual budget makes up a small portion of the total student government budget — less than one percent.
“The decision sends a dangerous message to the campus, which is essentially, ‘If we don’t like what you’re saying, we’ll do everything we can to shut you up, even if that means harming innocents in the process,’” he said. “A.S. hoped this would make us go bow down and go away, but in reality they challenged a belligerent drunk to a fist fight.”
So far, The Koala has raised $1,000 in addition to securing advertising contracts, Cohen said, adding that San Diego State University’s chapter of the publication draws its funding solely from ad revenues, “proving it is not impossible to run without school funding,” he said.
Now, with help from the ACLU, Koala staffers hope to overturn the cut by taking legal action.
The ACLU’s legal filing quotes extensively from the Bias Incident Report Forms, submitted to the college by students offended by The Koala’s article.
“[The publication] propagates insensitive mindsets with its sexist and racist comments masked under cruel humor,” one complaint said. “Screen works to make sure that there is no propagation of these attitudes.”
Another complaint demanded the university “immediately take the initiative to end any hate speech, actions or crimes that offend any groups represented on this campus.”
The Bias Response Incident Reports apparently prompted action, with one administrator noting, “we do not typically receive so many reports regarding single issue.” The student government responded by ending funding for all printed student media, even though it continues to pay for other forms of speech like forums and events with speakers.
The ACLU argues that “however offensive or outrageous it may have been, the article remains protected speech on topical issues of public concern, including but not necessarily limited to the nature, purpose, and appropriateness of trigger warnings and safe spaces on college and university campuses.”
“Part of attending a university is learning through considering opinions and voices that differ from your own, which you might not agree with,” he said. “Cutting funding to print media is a slippery step in the direction of anti-intellectualism and paternalism that should have no place on this campus.”
A motion for a preliminary injunction will be heard in federal court on July 18, 2016.