UC system to revise campus free-speech policy

Student declares victory in settlement with school

\nCALIFORNIA -- In a victory for University of California at\nSan Diego students' right to free speech, the school agreed to\nsettle a lawsuit filed by sophomore Ryan Benjamin Shapiro, who\nsued the school after he claimed it violated his First and 14th\nAmendment rights.

After displaying a poster in his window that read, "Fuck\nNetanyahu and Pinochet," Shapiro was asked to remove the\nsign. According to Shapiro, the dean who handled the case said\nthe sign "harassed people" and that she did not "like"\nwalking by it. He said she did not cite any specific complaints\nmade by students who were offended.

Shapiro said he told the dean, "Listen, I see things all\nthe time that I don't like, but accepting them is what makes our\nsystem of government what it is." He also informed the dean\nthat the accusation of harassment did not apply because "Netanyahu\nand Pinochet don't go here." The dean responded by telling\nShapiro he had been defiant and sentencing him to three hours\nof community service.

Shapiro researched similar First Amendment cases and asked\nfor a hearing to appeal the dean's decision. When he was not granted\na hearing, he decided to enlist the help of the American Civil\nLiberties Union.

University officials said the sign violated UCSD policies,\nwhich prohibited the display of posters on student windows as\nwell as the use of "fighting words."

According to Shapiro's attorney, Guylyn Cummings, the university's\nposting and "fighting words" policies violated students'\nconstitutional rights by limiting their freedom of expression.\nWith the help of the ACLU, Shapiro sued UCSD last March.

Shapiro and the ACLU say the August settlement is a strong\nvictory because the University of California System agreed to\nrevise its free speech and anti-harassment policies at its nine\ncampuses to ensure that students' First Amendment rights are not\nviolated. The terms of the settlement call for the suspension\nof Shapiro's community service sentence and the removal of all\ndocumentation of the incident from his disciplinary record. \n

The university revised a policy that outlined rules for the\ndistribution of noncommercial fliers, posters and banners. The\nnew UCSD policy will simply state that the university may not\nrestrict messages posted in dormitory windows.

The settlement required UCSD attorneys to outline guidelines\nconcerning how to interpret its code forbidding the use of "fighting\nwords" to ensure that it is in accordance with the U.S. Supreme\nCourt's definition of the phrase (as outlined in the 1942 Chaplinsky\nv. New Hampshire decision). According to the Supreme Court,\n"fighting words" only lose their First Amendment protection\nwhen they are directed toward an individual in a face-to-face\nconfrontation in a manner that is likely to cause an immediate\nviolent reaction.

The new UCSD policy clarifies that the "fighting words"\npolicy may not be used to censor student expression. It ensures\nthat students and administrators at the university will receive\nrevised disciplinary policies to clarify students' appeal rights.\n

Shapiro said he hopes his case has made administrators more\nconscious of the First Amendment.

"You shouldn't punish somebody for doing something that\nis their constitutional right to do," he said.

reports, Winter 1999-2000