February 11, 2016
Students for Justice in Palestine is pleased to announce that at its February 10th meeting, the Graduate Students Association Forum passed two items that go a significant way to resolving the longstanding issues stemming from GSA President Milan Chatterjee’s illegal funding restrictions against pro-Palestinian viewpoints. We believe that the resolution outlined below, combined with other steps taken by the administration, represent an acknowledgement of the harm caused by the funding restriction and a serious effort to undo that harm and prevent it from reoccurring in the future.
In October of 2015, a student group called the Diversity Caucus applied to the GSA Cabinet for event funding. GSA President Milan Chatterjee granted funding to the Diversity Caucus Town Hall, but attached the following restrictions:
“We understand that your organization has zero connection with "Divest from Israel" or any equivalent movement/organization. Hence, we approved your funding. I did want to reiterate that GSA leadership has a zero engagement/endorsement policy towards Divest from Israel or any related organization. I am confident that this won't be the case, but if we are aware that the Diversity Caucus is engaging with any such movement--directly or indirectly--in the organization of this event, we'll have to withdraw or recoup our allocation.”
As the American Civil Liberties Union, Palestine Legal, and the Center for Constitutional Rights have stated, these funding restrictions violated the First Amendment by illegally restricting the right of free speech and free association of graduate students, based on their political viewpoints. Student government cannot use its power to allocate public funds to enforce or silence a particular political viewpoint. In addition to the restrictions being illegal, further revelations indicated that the GSA President had not been authorized by the GSA to implement such a policy, which was never officially approved.
Although the process of resolving this situation has taken several months, on Wednesday, February 10th, the GSA Forum finally remedied this violation in two ways:
First, the GSA passed a constitutional amendment (specific language provided by ASUCLA) officially banning viewpoint discrimination in its allocation of student funds. This follows guidance provided by UCLA Vice Chancellor of Legal Affairs, Amy Blum, which confirmed the inadmissibility of viewpoint restrictions. The amendment states:
“Requests for event funding from GSA must be evaluated on a viewpoint-neutral basis; that is, they must be based upon considerations which do not include approval or disapproval of the viewpoint of the Registered Campus Organization or any of its related programs or activities.”
Second, the GSA passed a resolution acknowledging the specific wrongdoings that occurred with the funding restriction, committing to taking steps to repair the damage, and apologizing to students affected by the viewpoint restriction. The resolution can be read in full here.
After discovering the illegal funding restriction in October, 2015, SJP requested a series of steps to remedy the problem. These included:
1) the passage of an amendment outlawing viewpoint discrimination,
2) efforts to increase training and education for the GSA so as to prevent re-occurrences of this problem in the future,
3) training for staff that oversees the GSA so that they can better advise the GSA on first amendment issues,
4) and a clear statement of respect for open debate about political questions.
We are happy to state that these demands have now been met by administrators, who have stated unequivocally that viewpoint discrimination is impermissible, engaged in first amendment training, and committed to revising policies to be more clear going forward. These demands have also been met by the GSA through its passage of our resolution and its adoption of a constitutional amendment banning viewpoint discrimination. Although we found other parts of the administration's response to be insufficient, the GSA's actions last night, and particularly the comments made by Forum members, serve as a clear rebuke to those who wish to silence the speech rights of students who support Palestinian freedom and equality. With these remedies in place, we look forward to working with the GSA in the future on terms equal to all other student groups.
Finally, we also note that this issue has prompted a number of other steps towards better governance and accountability at the GSA. While previously GSA council minutes were not publicly available, the GSA Forum has now committed to publishing meeting minutes online, providing more accountability and transparency regarding council actions. In addition, using personal testimonies and written communication as evidence, the GSA has also begun an investigation of GSA President Milan Chatterjee for engaging in inappropriate behavior towards students concerned about the funding discrimination issue (among other charges).