UCSD student government defunds student media, including controversial satirical site The Koala

CALIFORNIA — Student government representatives at the University of California-San Diego have slashed funding to all student publications following an uproar over the content of a student-run humor magazine denounced by college administrators as “offensive” and “repugnant.”

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 — notorious for its vulgar shock-value humor — said his publication is being targeted specifically.

The vote came within a day of UCSD administrators’ statement denouncing The Koala for the “offensive and hurtful language it chooses to publish” and branding the publication “profoundly repugnant, repulsive, attacking and cruel.” The statement calls on UCSD students, faculty, staff and community members to “join us in condemning this publication and other hurtful acts.” UCSD administrators and student government representatives did not return the Student Press Law Center’s requests for comment as of Tuesday afternoon.

The statement was in response to a Koala satirical article, “UCSD unveils new dangerous space on campus,” that mocks students’ requests for safe spaces on campus and contains racial slurs. “Too long has the no-blacks rule been removed from our campus,” the article said. “Too long have students not been free to offend their hypersensitive peers.”

Cohen slammed the budget cut, characterizing it as thinly veiled censorship aimed at The Koala in particular. He pointed out that The Koala’s $3,000 annual budget comprises only a thin sliver of the total student government budget — about 0.17 percent.

“I don’t think any individual with half a head believes the BS that [the Associated Students Council] just ‘decided to not fund media anymore,’” Cohen said in an email. “It was clearly a choice targeting The Koala.”

The UCSD student newspaper The Guardian’s account of the meeting confirmed that student government leaders used the across-the-board media budget cut to target The Koala: “They explained that since Council cannot selectively discriminate against one publication (the Koala) without infringing upon First Amendment rights, Council should defund all publications currently receiving money from student fees,” the article said.

The Koala is no stranger to controversy. In 2005, the publication’s companion TV station aired footage of a Koala editor having sex with a pornography actress in protest of the student government’s ban on nudity and sexual content across student networks.

Five years later, the Koala replayed the controversial pornography video again, this time with the image of a female student government leader superimposed over the porn actress’s face, to protest the student government’s suspension of funding. (The Koala had its funding frozen by the student government because the TV station supported a “Compton Cookout” event that encouraged attendees to dress in “ghetto-themed” clothing and then used racial slurs to mock student protesters.)

Many UCSD students have denounced the Koala as racist and containing hate speech on various social media channels and expressed discomfort that student funds go to the publication.

But student leaders are flouting the First Amendment by muzzling The Koala, Cohen said.

“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.”

Other campus publications affected by the cut include the satirical newspaper Muir Quarterly, science newsletter Saltman Quarterly, fashion magazine Fashion Quarterly and the Undergraduate Research Journal, Cohen said. Representatives from these publications did not respond to SPLC’s requests for comment as of Tuesday afternoon. The Guardian is independently funded and unaffected by the cut.

The Koala has raised $1,000 so far 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.

Koala staffers hope to overturn the cut by meeting with administrators and potentially taking legal action, Cohen said. They have consulted with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and Cohen said he has reached out to the other campus publications with no responses yet.

“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.”

Contact SPLC staff writer Tara Jeffries at (202) 974-6317 or by email.

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