After contention and divided input from the public, Associated Students (AS) moved not to take any further action on media organization funding on their meeting on Wednesday, December 2. AS may also soon face legal action from the ACLU, among others, as a result of their decision to cut on-campus student-run media funding.
First to speak in the public comments section was Daniel Firoozi, president of UCSD’s College Democrats (who in the past has called the Koala “sophomoric, disrespectful” and “racist”). Firoozi began with an account of his family’s history – how his relatives once crossed the Syrian desert, barefoot, how his family escaped wars and fled countries, all in the name of freedom.
To him, the decision to cut media funding in response to The Koala was nothing short of censorship. His message was clear: return funding to media publications or AS will face legal action. These aren’t empty threats, either.
The Koala already contacted the ACLU, and on Monday, Firoozi posted the ACLU’s response to his Facebook timeline. The letter, addressed to the President of Associated Students, called AS’s decision to revoke funding “unconstitutional” and that “[d]isgusting though it is, The Koala article is protected speech.” Firoozi mentioned the case was, legally, a “slam dunk” and a number of lawyers have already stepped forward to take it on pro bono.
Following Firoozi was Andrew Deneris, editor-in-chief of The MQ. In his speech, Deneris mentioned that despite the AS budget slice, The Koala still published a new issue last Monday. According to Deneris, out of any media organization at UCSD, The Koala receives the most funding from outside sources, and thus has the greatest degree of financial independence. In effect, The Koala is the most likely to survive this cut, and could take up an even larger portion of campus culture as other organizations may be forced to reduce printing or even eliminate physical circulation as a consequence of AS-based fiscal cuts. The MQ, for instance, may now be forced to cut its production frequency from seven issues a year to just four.
It is important to consider that AS did not reach out to any impacted student media organization before it abruptly decided to cut their funding. Deneris wasn’t even aware that a decision was taking place until the day after the vote passed.
This radical 2015 defunding is in some ways a relation to an earlier Koala-related AS defunding decision from 2010. After the national embarrassment that was the Compton Cookout, AS decided to freeze funding to on-campus print media organizations. This fervor spread systemwide, threatening the existence of other self-identified satirical UC campus publications like The Fish Rap Live at UCSC.
“In 2010, before the funding freeze, there were 33 media orgs on campus,” Deneris remarked. “Today, there are five. One of the few orgs to survive that freeze was The MQ. Another was The Koala.”
However, the 2010 funding freeze had a deadline. As such, when AS failed to find a solution, funding came back by default. This time, it is different. If AS takes no further action, funding for media publications is gone forever.
Gabe Cohen, editor-in-chief of The Koala, spoke after Deneris. He echoed similar sentiments from earlier – the decision was unconstitutional, and unfairly impacted the other media organizations. Cohen claimed that it took only nine hours to recoup the funding they lost from AS, and that because of the new attention The Koala has received, they’re doing better than ever. In effect, AS’s decision has made them the only campus publication to continue without serious budgetary challenges.
Later in the open forum, a final, third faction line was drawn. A number of students came forth in support of AS’s decision to cut funding, considering the content of The Koala. Members of UCSD’s Black Student Union (BSU), such as Alexis Eubank, voiced outrage over the notion of their student fees going to fund publication such as The Koala.
“I believe AS’s decision to stop media funding in response to The Koala is reflective of what the students on this campus want,” said Eubank. “If not all students on this campus feel safe due to what the newspaper publishes, that is a problem. The school should not choose the newspaper over its students’ well being.”
Eubank voiced concerns that for prospective students, seeing a publication like The Koala present on Library Walk even further discourages marginalized students from attending UCSD.
Aditi Gautam, who started the petition against The Koala, pointed out that principal members of UCSD’s on-campus organizations had to attend a three-hour conflict resolution and sensitivity training session. Some members of The Koala likely went through it themselves.
“The Koala [has the] right to publish and I support that,” Gautam said. “I just think it is hypocritical of the university to let orgs like The Koala to be registered under the university when it goes against their Principles of Community.”
AS Council later held a special caucus where they discussed these issues in public. They repeatedly stressed that the funding cut was not trying to “target” or “destroy” The Koala, rather that student funds should not go towards funding such a publication. Not much was said of the legality of their actions, or infringement on First Amendment rights.
Tensions were high, and a number of council members seemed set on spending the cut funds elsewhere. Council decided not to take any further action on media funding for the time being until they’ve thoroughly thought out their concerns.
The question of student media defunding relates back to the number of questions being asked throughout the country. In questioning the legitimacy of “PC Culture” and “safe spaces,” some have begun to ask what kind of speech is acceptable, and what is irredeemable? Who gets to decide? And what role does an institution like the university have in all this?
“We are committed to the highest standards of civility and decency toward all. We are committed to promoting and supporting a community where all people can work and learn together in an atmosphere free of abusive or demeaning treatment. We are committed to the enforcement of policies that promote the fulfillment of these principles.” –The UCSD Principles of Community
Gautam stated, “I think in light of recent terrorist attacks and the unrest in Middle East, my brown and Muslim friends have already been feeling unsafe and there [has] been an incident where one of my friend[s] was called out by one of the students on campus … These kinds of papers just [make] it worse. It provides confirmation to the people who think Islamophobia, racism, or sexism is okay or something to be joked about.”
She emphasized, “The Koala can stay, but not be funded by my money, by my university.”