California professor says administrators censored magazine

CALIFORNIA — Although they have redistributed issues of a magazine that they confiscated from campus last month, administrators at the Art Institute of California at San Francisco have not quelled the concerns of the instructor whose class produced the publication.

Cultural studies Instructor Robert Ovetz is claiming that the administrators at the school infringed students’ free press rights on Dec. 6 when they confiscated almost all of the 500 copies of the magazine soon after it was distributed.

A spokeswoman for the private school said administrators were concerned over the use of corporate logos in the magazine, titled Mute/Off, and they wanted to allow the school’s legal counsel to review it for copyright infringement.

The school’s legal counsel approved the magazine, and it was redistributed last week, but Ovetz says he is not satisfied. The ordeal offered a poor lesson on freedom of expression to the class, he said, about a third of whom have since graduated or transferred.

“The damage has been done; it’s too little too late,” he said. “The rights of these students were violated. [Administrators] stepped into my classroom and essentially destroyed the class final project.”

Ovetz has alleged that the confiscation and review was prompted by the administration’s financial agenda. Inside the magazine, corporate images were arranged in a collage overlaid with the words “Organized Crime.” The collage included the logo for Goldman Sachs, which bought the school last year.

“[The administrators] didn’t like seeing it portrayed in a critical way,” he said.

Spokeswoman Gigi Gallinger-Dennis said the use of the Goldman Sachs logo was not a distinct motivation for the review. “We just have a review process in place for anything that’s publicly distributed.”

Simone Mitchell, a third-year student who had a story published in the magazine, said the class was not informed beforehand that administrators would review their work, and it was not initially clear who had removed copies of the magazine. “We had a little investigation to see who was responsible,” Mitchell said.

California’s private school Leonard Law, Education Code Section 94367, prohibits disciplining students based on their expression, but it does not necessarily rule out censorship, said Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center.

The school has since fired Ovetz, which he claims is a result of the complaints he lodged with administrators after the magazine was confiscated.

Gallinger-Dennis confirmed that Ovetz was dismissed, but she declined to reveal details, citing a policy against discussing personnel matters.

“I will say no student or faculty member [was] given sanction of any type as a result of the content or circulation of this magazine,” she added.

But Ovetz says he is more concerned with what he saw as serious infringement of his students’ rights.

“I think the main issue here really is that they have a policy of censorship, of oppressing student freedom of expression,” he said.

By Brian Hudson, SPLC staff writer