Federal judge dismisses The Koala’s claim against UCSD

A screenshot of The Koala's Fall 2015 issue from their online archive.

A federal judge dismissed The Koala’s claim against UCSD and Associated Students UCSD (ASUCSD) earlier this week after a ten-month fight in court. The suit, which claimed that UCSD and ASUCSD had violated the First Amendment rights of The Koala and other student media organizations, was dismissed on Feb. 28.

United States District Judge Jeffrey T. Miller reasoned that the government may restrict speech in a limited public forum as long as the regulations do not discriminate against viewpoint and are reasonable in light of the forum’s purpose.

The Koala, a satirical newspaper where “nothing is off limits,” has caused controversy in the past for making jokes about the UCSD Sexual Assault Resource Center, Black students, and Muslims. In a statement last year, University officials called The Koala “profoundly repugnant, repulsive, attacking and cruel.”

[Related: An Interview with Gabe Cohen, former Editor of The Koala]

Filed by the San Diego ACLU on May 31, 2016, the suit originally named The Koala as the plaintiff and Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, the ASUCSD President, and the ASUCSD Financial Controller as defendants. The case sought to “prevent Defendants [UCSD and ASCUSD] from continuing to violate the First Amendment rights of student organizations such as The Koala,” after ASUCSD eliminated funding for all 13 student media outlets.

In November 2016 the court denied a request for “injunctive relief,” which would have allowed the publication to continue to receive funding while the case was pending.

Andrew Deneris, the former editor of the Muir Quarterly, one of the publications defunded by ASUCSD, does not believe he is qualified to comment on the recent ruling. However, he does believe that ASUCSD’s decision to eliminate all media funding has done more harm than good to student media at UCSD.

“It clearly hasn’t significantly impacted The Koala‘s presence on campus, while making it more difficult for publications with different views, including the MQ, to make their voices heard,” Deneris said.

Christine Clark, UCSD Communications and Public Affairs Manager, provided The Triton with the University’s official statement following this week’s ruling:

“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,” the statement said.

David Loy, Legal Director for the San Diego ACLU and co-counsel Ryan Darby disagree with the court’s decision. “This case presents fundamental issues for the freedom of speech & press at public universities & we are considering an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit,” said Loy.

The Koala released its latest edition on Feb. 21, 2016 and still operates as a registered student organization at UCSD. The publication could not be reached for immediate comment.

Gabriel Schneider is the Editor-in-Chief of The Triton. He can be reached at editor@triton.news.

3/6, 11:14 a.m: This article was updated with comments from the ACLU.