CALIFORNIA—A district court in California has thrown out a lawsuit filed by The Koala, a satirical campus publication, against University of California-San Diego administrators and student government.
The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of The Koala after the Associated Students, UCSD’s student government, voted to defund all student media. The Koala alleged the cut was targeted at the magazine because the vote came after a student uproar over an offensive article, and also on the same day UCSD administrators spoke out against the magazine’s content, calling it “profoundly repugnant, repulsive, attacking and cruel.”
“UC San Diego is pleased that the federal district court has dismissed all of the Koala’s claims. The court found that the Associated Students did not violate the First Amendment or any other student rights. We believe that this is the right decision and hope that the court’s decision brings this case to a close,” a UCSD spokesperson said in a statement.
ACLU San Diego lawyer David Loy, who is representing The Koala, said the defunding of additional student media voices doesn’t pass muster as an argument against censorship of The Koala.
“The university’s arguments, as essentially endorsed by the district court, are nothing but a roadmap for how to get away with censorship. That’s not something that the First Amendment can tolerate,” Loy said.
The Koala contends that the administrators always had it out for them
“We watched first hand as a public university effectively strong-armed our well being under the guise of a ‘content neutral’ decision. There are emails obtained from a FOIA request which shows UCSD administrators openly discussing how to defund The Koala while opening new funding opportunities for other print media organizations,” Brian, the Koala’s editor, said in a statement to the SPLC. Editors of The Koala have traditionally only commented to the SPLC anonymously.
Associated Students spokesperson Emily Chen declined to comment.
The article in question, “UCSD unveils new dangerous space on campus,” used multiple racial slurs and stereotypes in its parody of campus “safe spaces.”
“Our position is that what the Koala printed is speech protected under the First Amendment and it is not the business of a public university to censor or stifle speech based on content or viewpoint. One can certainly take issue with that content or viewpoint; the First Amendment protects the right of other students to object and voice their disagreement and it protects the university to issue its own statement and criticize or condemn the content … the response to speech that one does not like is counter-speech, not censorship,” Loy said.
The federal court based its ruling on the concept of a “public forum” established by the government for means of communication. Although speakers have a high degree of constitutional protection against censorship when they use a public forum for their speech, the courts have not been clear about whether it’s legal for a government agency to close down a forum as a way of eliminating unwanted speech.
The judge found that, although student activity fee support for student media can be described as a “forum,” the First Amendment does not require keeping that forum open indefinitely, and that the court could not second-guess the motivation for closing the forum by discontinuing the fee.
“The First Amendment provides measured protections against selective taxes, penalties, policies and regulations that threaten the press. The reallocation of funds under the Media Act does not implicate such protections and fails to state a claim under the Free Press Clause,” U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller wrote in the court’s opinion.
Founded in 1982, The Koala has long occupied a controversial place on the UCSD campus. Searching for “The Koala” on this website reveals 15 different news stories the SPLC has written mentioning the publication. In 2003, the magazine found itself in hot water over an edition titled “Jizzlam: An Entertainment Magazine for the Islamic Man.” Last year, the magazine invited alt-right cheerleader Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on campus as part of his “Dangerous Faggot” tour.
Loy said The Koala is “strongly considering” an appeal of Mitchell’s decision.
The Koala’s editor remains defiant.
“We’re still publishing new issues on a quarterly basis from funds gathered through a mix of fundraising and advertising. We will continue to do as we have done since 1982: sit perched atop the eucalyptus trees, drinking beer and smoking joints, hurling our shit at anyone who passes by.”
SPLC staff writer James Hoyt can be reached by email or (202) 478-1926.
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