UCSD’s most notorious student-run humor newspaper just sued the school for free speech violations stemming from the student government’s decision earlier this year to revoke funding from every independent campus media organization. Named as defendants are Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, former student government president Dominick Suvonnasupa, and former financial controller Tristan Britt, all sued in their official capacity. The lawsuit, The Koala v. Pradeep Khosla, et. al., was filed May 31, 2016 as case number 3:16-cv-01296-JM-BLM in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.
In its complaint, the Koala argues that the university violated its rights to free speech and freedom of the press by unconstitutionally shutting down a public forum and by discriminating against the press in deciding how to allocate student fees.
The Koala also seeks a preliminary injunction, asking the Court to enjoin the defendants from refusing to fund the Koala on the same terms as any other student organization.
Months ago, the Koala published an issue poking fun at “safe space” culture proliferating across college campuses in the United States. In response, the administration sent out a campuswide email to every student, faculty, and staff member condemning the student-run club. The student government followed up with a vote to revoke funding from every student newspaper on campus, unconstitutionally retaliating against their constituents because of the viewpoint expressed in the Koala, according to the lawsuit.
According to commonly accepted interpretations of the First Amendment, although no student government is required to fund clubs, if they do decide to fund clubs, they must fund them on a content-neutral and viewpoint-neutral basis. They cannot fund only clubs whose opinions they agree with, and they cannot shut down a forum with the purpose of silencing one of the speakers who had been using that forum. Doing so violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. And when one of those clubs is a newspaper commenting on issues of public concern, refusing to fund the club solely because it is a newspaper violates the First Amendment’s separate protections for the press.
In this case, the student government violated all of those principles: They shut down an entire forum in order to squash a single controversial speaker, they retaliated against the Koala based on its content and viewpoint, and they banned all student newspapers from getting funds, even while still funding other forms of speech, such as bands, cultural celebrations, flyers, posters, a TV station, and a radio station.
The Koala is represented by attorneys Ryan Darby and David Blair Loy, of the Law Office of Ryan T. Darby and the ACLU of Southern California, respectively.