California students protest proposed assembly restrictions

CALIFORNIA — Students at the University of California at San Diego used fliers and the social networking site to protest the administration’s proposed new restrictions on student free speech and free assembly.

In an e-mail to students on June 8, the administration announced the planned policy revisions, which would require that any gathering of at least 10 people obtain a “reservation” and that one student be held legally accountable for any damage that occurs from the activity. The deadline for accepting student input on the revisions was set for June 25.

“The subject line of the e-mail actually didn’t say anything about free speech. It just said ‘Review of PPM 510-1,'” said Juan Vazquez, who will be a sophomore in the fall. But saddled with work as finals week approached, Vazquez skipped over the message. “The original e-mail was really misleading,” he said. “Probably a lot of people missed it.”

When a friend told him what it said two nights later, Vazquez designed fliers, created a Web site and started a Facebook group, which quickly grew to over 1,200 members. “Facebook can be a really powerful tool if used correctly,” Vazquez said.

“This is a true violation of our crucial rights of expression and it must be stopped,” he wrote on the Web site. “Do not let the administration control your ability to express your opinion! Do not let this policy take away your power to exercise the now endangered right of free speech! Do not let yourself and your community be silenced at your university!”

Students scheduled a question-and-answer session with the vice chancellor on June 12. In the middle of finals week, less than 24 hours after the Facebook group was created, over 80 people came to the meeting. “It was pretty amazing,” Vazquez said.

The vice chancellor, who is retiring at the end of the academic year, agreed to extend the deadline for comments on the revisions, Vazquez said, and promised that students would be included on the committee considering the revisions.

The vice chancellor declined to comment, his administrative assistant said.

A spokesperson for the university, Pat JaCoby, said the extension reflected the administration’s desire for more input on the drafted revisions. “They felt they hadn’t enough comments so [they] extended the comment period to Dec. 31,” she wrote in an e-mail.

As the students plan the next step in their campaign, they await the appointment of the new vice chancellor in the fall. “If the revisions still go through, there’s definitely going to be some kind of rallying to allow the greater UC community to express their opinion,” Vazquez said.

“Freedom of speech is particularly important because without that you can’t really do anything about anything,” Vazquez said in a phone interview. “If we can’t assemble with more than 10 people then we can’t do any kind of activism on campus.”