MSU Sanctions Must be Overturned
As the holy month of Ramadan drew to a close last week, members of the Muslim Student Union (MSU) at UC Irvine had little reason to celebrate. On Friday, September 3, UC Irvine upheld its suspension of the entire organization and sentenced its members to 100 hours of community service. This decision reeks of Islamophobia, has sweeping consequences for other students and student organizations (especially those espousing “radical” or unpopular views), and does not pass legal muster.
In October 2009, Max Blumenthal, a liberal journalist, spoke about his newest book and led a panel discussion at UC Riverside. The moment the event began, a group of about twenty College Republicans deliberately and effectively impeded the audience’s view of the speakers with large protest posters. Then, one of the protesters began spouting racial and homophobic slurs at the panelists, and the disruptions continued. The College Republicans received a mere slap on the wrist.
In fact, the UC Administration has only consistently punished student organizations when they unequivocally, maliciously, and egregiously violate policy, such as when fraternities engage in hazing. As of September 3, however, the Administration has symbolically considered the actions of a handful of MSU members at Michael Oren’s speech as warranting the same punishment as hazing. At the same time, more disruptive protests, such as the one at UC Riverside, result in almost no punishment. This selective enforcement of policy is unconstitutional because it denies individuals equal protection of the law. The Administration’s assumption of unfettered discretion in enforcing policy has opened the doors for rampant discrimination against student organizations with less popular or more controversial views.
Also, the UC Administration has based the MSU’s sanctions on a theory of guilt by association. Because two of the top officers and a few members of the MSU engaged in protest, the entire group is being sanctioned. As a consequence, the MSU cannot book rooms, request funding, and the former heads can never start a new organization. This collective punishment precludes all MSU members from engaging in their social and humanitarian work. (The 100 hour community service “sentence” is insulting because it implies the MSU does not already value community service and considers performing it a punishment.) The MSU’s suspension greatly impairs the ability of every single member of the organization to freely and fully practice his or her religion at UCI, especially because the MSU is the only organization at UCI that provides religious services to Muslims on campus.
We cannot remain silent as our fellow students endure draconian, discriminatory, and grossly excessive punishment for expressing their views, especially when other organizations received no punishment for much less peaceful protests. This lack of consistency, transparency, and fairness immensely concerns me, especially in this time of political volatility. By upholding the suspension of the MSU, the Administration has sent a cold shockwave across the UC system by effectively shutting down the forums through which students can freely voice their opinions.
The suspension of the MSU must be reversed. One of the most important characteristics of the UC system has been its reputation for tolerance and its support of diverse opinions and ideologies. The suspension of the MSU betrays a fundamental tenet of our community, and we cannot support such a violation of freedom, ethics, and humanity.
The unconstitutional disciplinary sanctions against the MSU will not impede its members from engaging freely in religious, social, and humanitarian work. While the Administration seeks to silence and chill the MSU’s membership, we should ensure that a forum remains for the MSU’s members to express themselves. We should stand united in our opposition to the unwarranted and selective sanctions of the MSU and in our hopes for a better UCI.