Calif. university drops disciplinary charges against underground humor publication

CALIFORNIA — The University of California at San Diegohas dropped student disciplinary charges against The Koala,an underground humor publication whose editors faced punishmentthat some say amounted to censorship.

Although the board ruled last week that there was insufficientevidence to substantiate the charges against The Koala,the lawsuit filed by the publication against the university allegingrepeated attempts to silence the humor publication remains active.

"Obviously, we think that the problems we are having withthe university have not disappeared and we are hopeful that ourlawsuit may help remedy some of the causes of these issues,"said Koala editor George Liddle.

In its decision, the board denied that the proceedings hadanything to do with the paper’s satirical nature.

"The student complaint and hearing focused exclusivelyon alleged disruptive behavior by an alleged Koala staffmember," the university said in a press release. "Neitherthe complaint nor the hearing concerned The Koala‘s editorialcontent."

The controversy began when two Koala members accompanieda freelance photographer to a May 19 meeting of the MovimientoEstudiantil Chicano de Azatlan (MEChA), a Chicano-rights group,and took a photo of member Ernesto Martinez after being askednot to photograph the gathering.

After a complaint from Martinez, the university brought thethree students up on charges of disturbing the meeting.

At the May 22 hearing, The Koala asked that the board’sproceedings be opened to the public. University code prohibitsopen hearings without the consent of both parties involved. Theuniversity objected, but citing the University of California system’sless stringent requirements to open the proceedings, board chairwomanParisa Baharian ruled in the paper’s favor.

Koala editors presented a limited defense after universityrepresentative Cara Silbaugh walked out of the hearing.

"Under university polices, the privacy of participantsin disciplinary hearings is paramount," the university pressrelease said. "Closed hearings are a normal procedure inthe case of disciplinary issues. To protect the privacy of itsstudent records, UCSD was unable to comply with that request."

Nicholas Aguilar, director of student policy and judicial affairsat the university, nullified the hearing, and the disciplinaryaction was rescheduled for June 5 behind closed doors despitethe objections of the school-sponsored paper the Guardian.

Koala attorney Elliott Kanter filed suit against theuniversity June 5, seeking $1 million in damages for repeatedattempts by the university to silence the humor publication. Thejudge denied Kanter’s request for a temporary restraining order.

Read our previous coverage.