September 7, 2010
Decision cuts group’s yearlong suspension to four months.
by Lisa Armony, Contributing Writer
The University of California, Irvine (UCI) has upheld its decision to sanction its Muslim Student Union (MSU), though it cut short the group’s yearlong suspension to four months. The group may not officially use university facilities during the fall 2010 quarter, recruit new members or raise funds, all part of the fallout for what school officials deemed the MSU’s violation of university codes of conduct related to the repeated disruption of a speech on campus in February by Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States.
Campus officials disclosed last week the outcome of an appeal, which the MSU launched in the spring after administrators recommended the group lose its registered status for a full calendar year.
The MSU will be on probation for two years—from Jan. 3, 2011 to Dec. 9, 2012—following the suspension. During that time, its president and three members will be required to attend at least 10 meetings with the director of student conduct. Members must also collectively complete 100 hours of community service before the group can request reinstatement. In its original decision, the UCI disciplinary committee had ordered a one-year probationary period and 50 hours of community service.
“This has been a difficult decision,” UCI Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Manuel N. Gomez, who adjudicated the appeal, said in a prepared statement. “But in the end, this process demonstrates the University of California, Irvine’s commitment to values, principles and tolerance. Although this has been a challenging experience for all involved, I am confident that we will continue to move forward as a stronger, more respectful university community.”
Incoming MSU Vice President Hadeer Soliman called the suspension a form of collective punishment in a Sep. 3 news conference. The suspension applies to the MSU as a group but not to individual students.
UCI officials launched an investigation into the actions by the MSU in February after students heckled Oren at least 12 times and booed him repeatedly before leaving the student center in protest. Oren, whose speech was sponsored by the university, walked off the stage after the first few interruptions, leading UCI officials, including Chancellor Michael Drake, to urge the protestors to stop disrupting the speaker or risk disciplinary action. Oren returned to the auditorium after nearly 30 minutes only to be interrupted again by students shouting anti-Israel vitriol.
Campus police arrested 11 students, eight from UCI, including the MSU president, and three from the University of California, Riverside, all of who were later released. Although their case was forwarded to the Orange County District Attorney’s office, no charges were filed against them.
On May 27, Lisa Cornish, senior executive director of student housing, notified the MSU that campus officials had found that the group and its authorized signers had planned and coordinated the disruption of Oren’s speech at the UCI Student Center. The investigation revealed evidence obtained through social networking sites and personal observations of what officials called a “detailed game plan” for disrupting the speech that identified “disruptors,” and created “scripted statements” that some hecklers read from index cards.
MSU members publicly insisted that the students had acted independently and that their actions constituted free speech as guaranteed under the First Amendment.
In his Aug. 31 letter to the MSU, Gomez disagreed, stating that the protests deprived Oren of his right to free speech and exceeded the students’ free speech protections afforded by both the First Amendment and campus policies. Public actions taken by group members in this matter gave the appearance of MSU sponsorship of “serious violations of campus policies and First Amendment protections,” he added.
Orange County Jewish groups expressed disappointment with the university’s decision to shorten the suspension. Calling the sanction “merely a slap on the wrist,” the Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism, whose 2008 report documented longstanding physical and verbal harassment of Jewish students at UCI, expressed concern that the university’s actions would not deter future incidents of anti-Semitism on campus.
“While the Task Force appreciates that UCI seems to be recognizing that anti-Semitism is a major problem at UCI by maintaining the suspension of the MSU, there clearly exists a lack of courage and moral conviction to fight hatred on campus by the UCI administration,” said a task force statement issued to The Jewish Journal.
“The only way we will know that this decision has been effective is if there is a systemic change in the action and conduct by the MSU and a turn to more thoughtful dialogue that befits a university campus,” said Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County in a statement.