When is the last time you heard of a student group being suspended for a year for doing what student groups do all the time-protesting a speaker? Probably never. And therein lies the question– some members of the Muslim Student Union (MSU) of UC Irvine planned to disrupt Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s talk at the campus. Eleven of them did so and were peacefully escorted out of the room by security, one by one. The plan was discussed on the MSU e-list but planned separately, according to the students’ attorney Reem Salahi. In fact, MSU members were divided on the protest so did not endorse it.
And yet, as UC Irvine’s Daily Pilot reports: “A UC Irvine student conduct committee has recommended suspending the Muslim Student Union, following repeated disruptions by several of its members during a February speech by the Israeli ambassador, a campus spokeswoman said. The recommendation has not taken effect because the student group has appealed the decision, said UCI spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon.”
If something seems off here, the Los Angeles Times thinks so too in UC Irvine protest case raises questions about discipline practices. They say “Experts say it’s unusual for a whole group to be sanctioned in civil disobedience cases.” Indeed. Is such a judgment fair or consistent? And if not, why not?
Attorney Reem Salahi responds with this damning litany of hypocrisy:
The University’s disciplinary recommendation never explains why the alleged violations and particularly the alleged lie justifies the massive, unprecedented sanction that the University has levied against the MSU. In the past, UCI has permitted protestors to disrupt speakers by heckling, breaking into song and even, on one occasion, allowing an organized group of students to surround an MSU speaker critical of Israel with posters and continually shout him down to the point that he was unable to be heard. Neither these students nor their respective organizations were administratively sanctioned. Similarly egregious protests have taken place at the different UCs with little to no administrative response.
At UC Riverside earlier this academic year, Republican students shouted down and visually blocked a panel of speakers. These students espoused hate speech and yelled homophobic and racist epithets at the panelists. Police and administrators stood by and permitted the presentation to be thoroughly disrupted for over an hour. They made no attempt to detain, arrest or identify those students, even though the faculty speakers and others present could readily identify them. Nor did they conduct an investigation, punish them, or punish the campus organization with which these disorderly students were associated. Similarly at UC Berkeley, pro Israeli students interrupted a distinguished pro-Palestinian scholar and UN Special Rapporteur using a bullhorn after they were explicitly told by the police not to do so. They were not arrested and following an internal investigation, no disciplinary sanctions were levied. So, while the University preaches the “marketplace of ideas,” the disparate treatment of those who speak on the wrong side of the Israel/Palestine question reveals the weakness of the University’s commitment to this ideal.