UC Irvine upholds suspension of Muslim group, bans it for one quarter

The suspension of a Muslim student group at UC Irvine was upheld by university officials, but the recommended yearlong ban was reduced to one academic quarter, a move that could allow the group to begin participating in campus activities in January.

The Muslim Student Union was appealing the campus ban that was handed down earlier this summer after a protest by several students during a February speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.

The group has maintained that it did not organize the protest, though several of its officers and members participated in the protest, in which Oren was repeatedly interrupted as he spoke.

In maintaining the suspension, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Manuel Gomez focused mostly on the participation of members of the organization in the protest rather than a lengthy set of e-mails that was used as evidence in the initial investigation by the university’s director of student housing.

The e-mails, which the school said it obtained anonymously, showed that the Muslim Student Union “planned, orchestrated and coordinated” the protest, school administrators had said in the previous suspension letter.

“The public actions of [blacked out] give the appearance of MSU sponsorship to these serious violations of campus policies and First Amendment protections,” Gomez wrote this week in his letter to the group. “And because the violations occurred on campus … the perception of MSU endorsement is especially difficult to overcome.”

The group must complete 100 hours of community service before it can apply for reinstatement late this year. Once that has been granted, the union will be on probation for two years.

During a news conference Friday, representatives of the organization continued to maintain that the suspension amounts to collective punishment. Incoming union Vice President Hadeer Soliman said members have received hate mail and endured personal attacks during this time.

Given what she described as a rising tide of anti-Muslim hate in the country, Soliman said the suspension sends “the wrong message at the wrong time.”

“The end result of this harsh decision is the reality that for the next few months, the entire MSU membership, including incoming students and alumni, is deprived of their ability to freely associate with a club that caters to their religious, social and cultural needs,” Soliman said.

Campus spokesman Tom Vasich said the group can still reserve and use the Interfaith Center on campus for Friday prayer services because the facility is run independently, not by the university.