The bench of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena heard arguments on April 8 from University of California lawyers and Christopher Brown, a former UCSB graduate student of material engineering who sued UCSB faculty and administrators for refusing to publish his thesis.
UCSB refused to put the thesis in Davidson Library because Brown included a series of “disacknowledgements” referring to members of UCSB faculty as “fascists” and criticizing those he met during his years in the UC system. Brown filed suit against Chancellor Henry Yang, Graduate Division Dean Charles Li, UCSB librarian Sara Pritchard and the professors on his thesis committee.
Brown claims the UC violated his First Amendment right to free speech when they first denied his degree for a year and then requested that he remove the section from his thesis so it could be shelved in the library.
“[It’s a] discrimination against viewpoint and highly illegal according to the First Amendment,” Brown said.
U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lew through out Brown’s case last May on the grounds that UCSB was not constitutionally required to accept the thesis. Brown appealed the case.
Undergraduate students at UC Berkeley and graduate students at UCLA signed a brief submitted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-profit organization that promotes free speech on college campuses in America. The brief was a statement of support for Brown that his lawyers used during the trial. Judges are expected to make a decision within the next three to six months.
The “acknowledgements” section in a thesis is designated for students to thank and laud those who helped them. Brown said that by allowing only praise, UCSB is allowing professors to control the material that can be viewed in the library.