In a letter dated June 29, 2016, the UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office issued the findings from its investigation into potentially discriminatory acts by the 2015-2016 GSA President. At question was whether the GSA President had issued a restriction on access to student government funding that discriminated against pro-Palestinian viewpoints, and by extension the students who hold those views. The DPO’s investigation included 17 interviews as well as reviews of emails, meeting minutes, and other documents relevant to the issue. Among other things, the DPO found that:
- Despite the GSA President’s later efforts to portray the stipulation as a poorly worded blanket ban on funding any speech in favor of or against divestment, an objective reader would view the funding stipulation as based on viewpoint.
- The stipulation was never subject to the proper approval process of the GSA. As such, although it was represented to students as official GSA policy, this was not true.
- Despite the GSA President’s claims, there is no evidence that the stipulation was asked for by other GSA Cabinet members or that the GSA’s advisors approved of the stipulation.
- The viewpoint based nature of the stipulation meant that it violated several sections of University of California Policies Applying to Campus Activities, Organizations and Students (PACAOS). These policies show that the student government should provide for the discussion of a wide range of ideas, that student fees should be used to stimulate a discussion of such a wide range of ideas, and that funding to student groups must be allocated in a viewpoint neutral manner in order to further those objectives.
- The stipulation negatively affected Campus Climate by chilling the speech of students, including students in pro-divestment organizations and organizations that wished to engage with pro-divestment organizations, and students who were made to believe that the restriction was official policy.
It should be noted that the DPO’s findings support the claims SJP made from beginning to end of this affair.
We believe that this case is an important issue for the UCLA public to understand, so as to ensure that future student governments do not repeat the mistakes of the 2015-16 GSA President. This case furthermore serves as a lesson about free speech, the role of student government on campus, and the consequences that follow when individuals in positions of power attempt to engage in censorship of a particular group’s viewpoint.
Now that this case is fully behind us, having been resolved by the GSA Forum’s resolution revoking the policy and apologizing to students, its letter of censure to the GSA President, and now these findings by the DPO, SJP at UCLA looks forward to continuing our work to educate and organize the campus in support of Palestinian freedom, equality, and justice. We will continue to make our argument that the UC system must cease investing in or supporting corporations that facilitate the violation of Palestinian human rights, and we look forward to doing so at both the undergraduate and graduate student level.
As a final point, we recognize that this attempt at censorship did not occur in a vacuum. For years now, pro-Israel groups have attempted to censor our side of the debate on the question of Palestine, presumably because they have no legitimate means of countering our arguments. Campus activism moves forward despite these attempts at censorship, but they cost time and energy to resist. The GSA President’s attempt to silence SJP’s point of view is of a piece with this longer trend of repression, but also serves as a case study and preview of the effects of legislation proposed in the California State Legislature. Attempts to use government power to single out individual viewpoints and penalize them are antithetical to free speech, corrosive to democracy, and a sign that today’s politicians have failed to learn the lessons of recent American history. If the effect of the GSA President’s censorious acts on UCLA’s campus climate are any indication, similar actions taken by the California government will also violate the law, intimidate citizens, and chill free speech. This is why the LA Times wrote in a recent editorial, that “Politicians are free to denounce BDS if they choose. But they must do so without infringing on the rights of their constituents.” A failure to understand this principle is the central mistake that the GSA President made, and it is the mistake that the California Legislature must now be persuaded not to repeat.