University right to suspend student group

Officials at the University of California- Irvine have made the right decision when they recommended suspending the UCI Muslim Student Union for one year. This was for disrupting a campus speech by Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, in February.

UCI’s Muslim Student Union, at the center of a number of political controversies in recent years, was shown in a university investigation to have been involved in organizing the protest at the Feb. 8 speech, something the group had denied.

At the speech in UCI’s Pacific Ballroom, a raucous group of students, mostly from UCI and including the president of the MSU, repeatedly and loudly interrupted Oren’s speech. Protesters in the audience stood up and shouted barely understandable tirades that condemned Israeli policies toward Palestinians, in general, and the ambassador, in particular, while he was attempting to address 500 attendees, according to news reports and videos.

Oren left the stage at one point, then returned. Eleven students were arrested and cited but none was criminally charged.

UCI officials recommended a one-year suspension for the Muslim Student Union, effective Sept. 1, and 50 hours of community service for members. The MSU was notified in a letter dated May 27.

MSU leaders denied the group itself had anything official to do with the outbursts, and the MSU indicated it would appeal the decision. “During the event, seven UC Irvine students stood up and protested against inhumane Israeli policies, which deprive Palestinians of their human rights. The University alleged that the students’ actions were an officially sanctioned MSU activity, which the MSU has repeatedly denied. The students acted in their personal capacity,” said a statement on the MSU website.

The university investigation found e-mail exchanges among MSU members, as well as minutes from their meetings, that demonstrate the group’s participation in organizing the protest. The memos show willing participants being identified and drafts of talking points, among other things. The report also states MSU members instructed other members to deny the organization’s “official” involvement.

Student groups have the right to review and can appeal reprimands to the UCI Student Affairs department. The time frame for deciding the appeal was unspecified.

We’re the first to defend keeping speech free of government restraints. We appreciate that the Muslim students opposed Oren’s views and his remarks. But Oren had the floor that evening, and the Muslim students had their right to object in any number of ways that would not have interfered with his right to speak.

Their “heckler’s veto” was neither successful in advancing their point of view nor enlightening to those who might be interested in what they had to say.