The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education proclaimed “Victory at UC Santa Barbara” earlier this month after accusing Associated Students Legislative Council and Finance Board of First Amendment violations in their deliberations regarding funding for the College Republicans’ David Horowitz lecture last Spring.
In an Oct. 10 press release, the non-profit free speech advocacy group alleged that university officials “stepped in” to resolve Finance Board’s unconstitutional decision to deny CR’s request for $2,000 to fund the contentious speech, which was held on May 26, during their May 2 meeting. While Legislative Council amended the board’s allocation to fund the group $800 for partial event security at their May 4 meeting, FIRE accused the council of practicing “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination” for not providing an additional $300 to fully fund the event’s security costs.
Office of Student Life Director Katya Armistead said though the $800 from was allocated from Finance Board, CR President Steven Begakis failed to submit any invoices, a procedure necessary to utilize the funding.
“The only reason Associated Students Finance Board did not fund any of the event was simply because no invoices were submitted to Associated Students,” Armistead said. “They don’t just get the money allocated; they have to turn in invoices and only what is spent is what they actually get. … They were allocated funding, but the College Republicans never followed up on that funding.”
According to Armistead, FIRE’s claims that unnamed university officials caved to the foundation’s demands and allocated $1,800 to fully fund the lecture are actually a widely publicized misinterpretation of two endowments from the OSL in May.
“I don’t think we’re really dealing with [FIRE]; we’ve just gotten a lot of letters from them,” Armistead said. “… I think [the statement] is misleading; it’s indicating that they had anything to do with the way we fund organizations on this campus, which is absolutely not true. Any of our actions have not been the result of anything from FIRE.”
The statement is attributed to FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel, who, as of press time, could not be reached for comment.
On Oct. 13, the San Francisco Chronicle published a piece on the alleged controversy under the headline “Free speech: UCSB reimburses College Republicans.” The article mirrored many of FIRE’s allegations and additionally claimed that Chancellor Henry T. Yang’s office funded CR’s full request of $1,800 in response to the foundation’s protests.
The David Horowitz Freedom Center’s FrontPage Magazine claimed in an Oct. 10 article that “after pressure was brought to bear over this wrong-doing, the university ultimately over-ruled Associated Students’ funding malfeasance.” However, the foundation’s statement from the same day declared “victory” on Oct. 6 by receiving documentation of an e-mail confirming that the full $1,800 to cover the event’s security, audiovisual and recording costs had already been allocated by the OSL student organization After Dark Programming Fund$ in May.
The e-mail, sent on May 26 from After Dark staff adviser Barbra Ortiz to OSL Assistant Finance Officer Mary Silver, reports the event’s funding breakdown as $800 from an OSL lock-in fee and $1,000 from an A.S. security lock-in fee. According to Armistead, After Dark — financed by an OSL lock-in fee — provided the $800 allocation in early May; later that month, Armistead granted the supplemental $1,000 from the A.S. security fee, which provides After Dark with an annual $5,000 specifically for security costs.
Armistead said she made sure to secure the $1,000 grant for CR because their funding from Finance Board had yet to be finalized through an invoice from CR and she wanted to guarantee that the event’s security costs would be covered.
“We were in the middle of negotiating with campus police as to how much security was going to be required for the event, so in order to protect this particular event from exceeding security costs as a typical event on this campus, we secured that extra funding so that this org would not be treated unfairly with exorbitant security costs,” Armistead said.
However, Begakis said it was FIRE’s fear campaign that pushed Armistead to provide extra funding in hopes of dispelling a potential lawsuit.
“At the time, FIRE was saying if the school didn’t pay everything, there would be a lawsuit,” Begakis said. “I think that’s why Katya handled everything — because she knew she’d have to pay it anyway.”
According to Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Young, the foundation’s recent press celebrates a nearly six-month-old victory on the part of A.S. and OSL groups — a triumph in which FIRE played no part.
“The event was funded as it should’ve been; it went along as planned,” Young said. “I don’t even understand why they’re now coming back and complaining about something that they got [that] they would’ve gotten anyway … [FIRE] wasn’t even involved.”
Young went on to expound upon the issues created by FIRE’s involvement in campus proceedings which had been settled prior to the foundation’s fixation on old news.
“The problem with FIRE is they wanted controversy where there is none, so they’re trying to create one,” Young said. “This had been resolved before FIRE got into it; they’re just trying to create a situation where none exists. They have a political agenda and that’s what they’re playing out. Go to their website and see their agenda.”
The realities of the matter were further clouded, Armistead said, when Begakis reviewed the CR’s budget and, as a result of ambiguous labeling of funding sources, determined that no money had been allotted to CR for the event despite the extra $1,800 present in their budget.
“The school actually said the school had paid for all our security and all our [costs],” Begakis said. “FIRE asked to see our account balance, and it looked like we had been charged for everything. I went to the Office of Student Life and they told me they had no record of After Dark ever paying for anything.”
Armistead said Begakis simply misunderstood the CR budget when he inspected it and found no allocations from a source specifically labeled “After Dark.” This, according to Armistead, led him to believe the promised funds were never transferred although charges to CR for $800 and $1,000 were attributed to OSL and A.S. lock-in fees, respectively.
“It was a complete misunderstanding and it’s just unfortunate that I wasn’t asked before it got out of control or misrepresented publicly,” Armistead said.
Young said the inaccuracies and implications in FIRE’s statement fundamentally misrepresented the progression of events.
“The story FIRE is telling is misleading because the fact is, regular student dollars were used to fund the program,” Young said. “There were no special sources that were used to pay for the event … the College Republicans got funding from all the normal sources that student groups get funding and that is it, and they know it.”
Begakis, a fourth-year political science major, said regardless of the fact that CR was eventually funded, Finance Board’s justifications for denying the group’s request were far from in line with Americans’ basic freedoms.
“We asked for $2,000; Finance Board gave us zero,” Begakis said. “One of the reasons for the rejection was that [Horowitz] is Islamophobic. We said that we have a free speech right to have equal access to the funding. Our free speech rights were being violated.”
According to an e-mail from Finance Board member Lucy Nguyen, “College Republicans was not allocated funds for David Horowitz because the board believes that the dialogue between Horowitz and UCSB students will not be a constructive one.”
Armistead confirmed that the board’s reasons for refusing to fund the group were not consistent with university policy but said she and other officials intervened and informed the board of the issue before FIRE became involved.
“[FIRE] had a point that we shouldn’t base funding on content and as soon as that happened — way before we were contacted by FIRE — we were concerned and talked to leadership and said, ‘You need to rethink how you’re going to decide whether you’re going to fund this org or not,’” Armistead said. “We were already in that correspondence regardless of any correspondence from FIRE.”
Before the May 4 Legislative Council meeting, 2010-2011 Finance Board Chair Katie Lieberknecht spoke with the UC Regents’ lawyer, who explained that the Board’s reasons for fully denying the request violated University Policy 86.30. The system-wide ruling mandates that A.S. entities allocate student fees to campus groups in accordance with procedures that “must be viewpoint-neutral in their nature; 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.”
Lieberknecht brought this information to Legislative Council, who then deliberated on the matter for several hours before eventually opening the Board’s minutes and changing their allotment to $800.
According to Young, the council’s remedial action exemplified the successful system of checks and balances in place among various arms of the association.
“It is true that it was Finance Board that did not want to fund [CR],” Young said. “So Legislative Council, in its normal procedures, gave funding to the College Republicans at a reasonable amount or approximately neutral base and that’s the story.”
However, FIRE’s barrage of statements, letters and articles asserted that the council originally voted to grant $1,100 to CR to fully fund security costs but reduced its reallocation to $800 due to “viewpoint discrimination” and jeers from the audience. It supported these claims by manipulating selective content from a Nexus article regarding the meeting.
While much of crowd expressed frustration — even outrage — at the first allocation, FIRE failed to mention that they had done so throughout much of the meeting, both at the podium during Public Forum and from the seats where many held anti-Islamophobia signs.
Begakis said he and fellow CR members were pleased with the initial result but were later informed of the reduction, which he too blamed on pressure from audience members despite having already disclosed that he left the meeting following the first allocation.
According to 2010-2011 Representative-at-Large Chloe Stryker, who currently serves as Internal Vice President, the council decided to lower the allocation to $800 after several representatives voiced concern that, due to the speedy approval process and a complex series of modifications, they had unintentionally voted in favor of the $1,100 allotment.
“When the amendment is friendly with the person that made the original motion, then that amendment becomes the new motion,” Stryker said. “So when we passed [the amendment], we passed that motion. I guess a few got confused. … People that wanted to vote didn’t understand what was going on and thought it was just to pass that amendment.”
In addition, 2010-2011 Off-Campus Representative Tiffany Mayville said she felt as though the council was forced to make a complex decision very quickly and was under immense pressure to follow legal advice that had only been brought to their attention at the start of the meeting.
“I understand the weight words have and look at what are we setting a precedent for again,” Mayville said. “The threat of being sued is very disempowering and it feels like we’re being told how to vote because of legalities. We have the duty to represent students and not the Regents.”
However, 2010-2011 Internal Vice President Jake Elwood admitted that the council was left with few other options.
“Here’s the main idea: if we pass Finance Boards minutes we will be sued by David Horowitz because we cannot deny funding based on what he’s saying,” Elwood said. “It’s not a First Amendment issue; it’s a California State Law. University funding cannot be denied for expression of any intellectual argument.”
According to Lieberknecht, the lawyer’s advice was difficult to implement in the context of the meeting as many students expressed concern for their safety, which is inherently subjective in a court of law.
“The context of the speech can’t be basis for denial, but the actions or impact outside of the speech constitutes hate,” Lieberknecht said. “I told the lawyer I felt unsafe. The lawyer replied, ‘Define unsafe.’ I don’t know how to define that.”
Though several students verbalized serious concerns for their personal wellbeing given Horowitz’s potential to incite violence, FIRE’s most recent statement mentioned only one such comment. Furthermore, the reference was listed under what FIRE described as council members’ “blatantly unconstitutional reasons for voting against any allocation for the event,” though many of the listed quotes were taken out of context and few — if any — represented the council’s final rationale behind their decision.
When CR brought Horowitz to UCSB in 2008, the conservative speaker asserted that the Muslim Student Association would be in favor of a “second Holocaust of the Jews.” This new claim followed his history of insistence that MSA has ties to terrorist organizations such as Hamas and al-Qaeda and aims to “bring the jihad into the heart of American higher education.”
2010-2011 Finance Board member Ahmed Mostafa, the current External Vice President of Statewide Affairs, said he respected CR’s bravery for representing the ambitions of the campus’ conservative minority but could not agree that the lecture would be conducive to a safe campus environment.
“I want to commend College Republicans for coming in and fighting for what they believe in,” Mostafa said. “The issue is safety for me on this campus and I respect the students in College Republicans — it is hard to stand up, especially as a marginalized individual. I feel like this speaker coming to campus, speaking just as a student, threatens my safety.”
Mostafa’s sentiments were reiterated by a representative from Political Action for Israel who said protecting the campus from the unpredictable implications of Horowitz’s speech ought to take priority.
“When [Horowitz] last came to speak … I had a lot of friends that felt really unsafe on campus,” the representative said. “As a Jewish person, I want to maintain the safety of the student body. Free speech is important but not limitless — you cannot yell fire in a crowded building.”
As the debate shifted from whether or not to fund the event to what constituted an appropriate allocation amount, Mostafa gave a solemn word of warning to the council.
“If this is funded, whatever is incited from this is on the council’s hands,” Mostafa said. “I don’t want to endanger students and I don’t want my student fees to fund that endangerment.”
The speech, as well as a simultaneous alternative event, went forward as planned without issue, though Young said he felt Horowitz could have chosen more educational lecture topics.
“I was at his speech and a good 60 percent of it was just him complaining about not being allowed to speak, all the time speaking in our auditorium … at an event that was funded by our student government,” Young said.
According to Armistead, public clarification of the matter will hopefully provide some respite from undeserved accusations against the university.
“It’s a little disappointing that these allegations are made considering the amount of time that we spent on these events to make sure that they are successful,” Armistead said. “I have spent at least as much time, if not more, on the events that College Republicans have had compared to other events, so it’s a little frustrating that we’re accused of not providing a level of service when I feel like I’ve gone over and above, and I’m happy to do that; it’s my job. It’s just, when it goes this far, it’s a little frustrating.”
Alexander Colletta contributed to this article.