THE BLOG
04/27/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

UCSD Media Funding Freeze Offends the First Amendment

If someone acting on behalf of a public college cuts off funding to student media because he doesn't like what one particular outlet said, should it matter that what the outlet said was really, really offensive?

How you answer that question depends on whether you understand the First Amendment--and maybe on whether you attend the University of California at San Diego, where blatant racism on one particular TV program has resulted in a funding freeze to a number of student media organizations on campus.

The quote that we need to dissect here comes from Utsav Gupta, president of the school's Associated Students:

"Some students are drawing the incorrect conclusion that this is muzzling free speech," he said in an interview. "The right to free speech does not equate to a right to funding."

When Gupta is allocating funds collected by the state for state purposes, he's acting as an agent of the government. That means that the State of California, not Utsav Gupta, gets to decide when speech should or should not be funded.

Of course, the State of California's discretion is limited here, too, by its participation in the United States of America and the latter's Constitution.

Which brings us back to the First Amendment, as applied to the states by the Fourteenth. Does it offend the First Amendment for a government agent to cut off funding to student media because he doesn't like what they said? The Supreme Court thinks it does.

This has nothing to do with how offended the campus has been by these comments. The campus has the right to be offended. This is about one low-ranking government functionary who took his well-justified feelings of outrage and put them into motion in a way that offends the Constitution.

If Gupta believes the Constitution does not protect the right to outrage your government, I wonder--what exactly does he think the framers of our democracy were intending to accomplish? The right to say nice things to each other? The right to politely ask King George if he wouldn't mind not imprisoning quite so many people for seditious libel?

And what good has come of this freeze? It has created an echo chamber where student media wanting to refute the offensive viewpoints are limited in their ability to react. It has not made the words vanish or the sentiments softer. Now, when UCSD most needs to have its students talk to each other, the broadest methods for that discussion are hamstrung.

What do you think? But before you answer--would you feel the same way if, next year, a different Associated Students president decided that diversity was offensive and he was going to freeze student media funding until he could re-write the rules to suit the tastes of his social circle?