The months long investigation found that the GSA President violated UC Policy when attempting to bar funding to student groups engaged in pro-divestment speech. SJP has posted the redacted report online.
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:
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.
For Immediate Release
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).
Graduate Student Association Passes Resolution Apologizing to SJP and Diversity Caucus and Committing to Viewpoint Neutrality in Funding
Middle East Studies Association Writes in Opposition to GSA Funding Discrimination against Divestment Supporters
Via the Daily Bruin
Whoever asked the American Center for Law and Justice to weigh in on the Graduate Student Association funding scandal should have told them the whole story.
Last week, the ACLJ, a staunchly anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and anti-women’s rights legal advocacy group founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, issued a letter to the university claiming that the GSA’s denial of student funds to groups that endorsed or were “connected to” pro-divestment positions in any way might actually have been legal. While there is ample evidence that their argument is legally wrong, it is just as important for the public to realize that the main condition underlying the ACLJ’s argument also turns out to be completely hypothetical. Here’s what happened:
The ACLJ’s argument rests on the premise that the GSA had passed a resolution adopting a position of neutrality on the issue of Israel-Palestine. In fact, as the GSA Cabinet wrote in its Nov. 24 statement of clarification, “GSA does not have any policy or resolution regarding inclusion or exclusion of any political, ideological or religious viewpoints in its event funding. Such a policy or resolution could only be passed by the GSA Forum, and no resolution to that effect has been considered or voted on by GSA Forum.” The Cabinet continued, stating that it had considered a “conceptual resolution” of neutrality, but that “in order to go into effect as a guideline for GSA, it would be required to be noticed and voted on by the GSA Forum, which has not occurred.”
So there you have it: The GSA itself says there’s no resolution of neutrality. In fact, statements made by multiple members of the GSA go even further, proving that the neutrality position was hastily contrived only after the funding restrictions were put in place – clearly an attempt to cover up or retroactively justify the restrictions.
So what does this mean? First, it means that the ACLJ is in the position of having written a set of legal arguments that have absolutely no foundation. Its legal letter is a castle made of sand. Second, and much more importantly, it means
that the GSA Cabinet never had the authority to issue funding restrictions to any group.
It is, however, worth considering what would be different if the GSA had indeed passed a neutrality resolution. Such a resolution would still not allow the GSA to make funding determinations based on the political views of its recipients. It is still illegal to say to students that in order to receive student funding, they had to have “zero connection” to other students who take a particular political position.
Let’s consider for a moment what behavior the ACLJ is defending. The emails sent on behalf of the GSA to a funding recipient said, “if we are aware that (you are) engaging with (Divest from Israel) – directly or indirectly – in the organization of this event – we’ll have to withdraw or recoup our allocation.” How can this be enforced except through Orwellian monitoring of graduate students’ speech and activity? Are we ready to turn the GSA Cabinet into the speech police for all the student groups that receive its funding, to make sure they don’t “endorse” or “connect” with anyone, “directly or indirectly,” whose speech is forbidden? Will the GSA be empowered to determine what speech crosses their lines and what doesn’t?
Ultimately, that type of speech policing is what the ACLJ is defending – a level of intrusion into individuals’ lives that fits quite well with its other legal work, like fighting what it calls the “radical homosexual agenda” and working to deny women the right to an abortion.
So what is the solution to this mess? First, while the administration shouldn’t be involved in day-to-day graduate governance, it can provide advice and training that would educate student leaders about the law and reduce the chances they might break it. Second, the GSA needs more transparency and internal oversight so that one arm can’t simply make up rules that the other arm never signed off on. And third, the GSA should adopt clear guidelines that prevent this from happening again. Right now, this last reform is the most realistic. Last week’s GSA Forum meeting resulted in the addition of such an amendment to the agenda for the next meeting in winter quarter. Anyone who is concerned about free speech should hope that it passes unanimously.