Student union deserves fair hearing

UC Irvine officials have taken the rare step of recommending that a student organization be suspended for a year. A campus investigation into the Muslim Student Union’s alleged role in disrupting a Feb. 8 speech at UCI by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren concluded that the MSU not only planned, instigated and orchestrated the ruckus, but also lied to officials about its hand in that unpleasant and unnecessary turn of events.

It culminated in the arrests of nine UCI students and two UC Riverside students. Campus police may have gone too far in arresting the 11, but we do not think that the decision to recommend the MSU’s suspension is too extreme. Gleaning from evidence referred to in a 14-page official UCI letter that spelled out the charges and findings in the probe of the MSU, we believe that UCI officials acted appropriately in recommending be suspension.

Judging by the details and facts carefully presented in the letter signed by Lisa Cornish — the UCI official who was tasked with leading the conduct probe into the union’s alleged role in Feb. 8 — the MSU appears to have committed a calculated act aimed more at disruption than in the free exchange of ideas.

The letter contains a synopsis of evidence gathered through interviews with students, officials and authorities, various videos filmed at the event, the testimony of witnesses and other material, that appears solid.

The Cornish letter shows that the union held a general assembly on Feb. 3, where the “Israeli Ambassador Event” was listed on the agenda.

During the discussion of that agenda item, the letter says, MSU students talked about sending “the speaker a message — our goal should be that he knows that can’t go to a campus and say what he wants….”

Cornish’s report goes on to describe how MSU members talked about planting so-called “disruptors” in the crowd, who would stand up and read scripted messages from index cards.

“Be VERY LOUD, firm and strong … but remain composed and under control,” according to an excerpt cited in the letter. “Do not let your emotions get the best of you. Remember that this is a planned/calculated response and not a venting session.”

After Cornish issued her report and recommendation that the MSU be suspended, the group lodged an appeal with Rameen Talesh, UCI’s dean of students. It will be up to him to hear out the Muslim Student Union, weigh the facts, evidence and testimony in the case, and then decide whether to mete out the suspension.

Should this happen it would be a tragedy, because the organization is supposed to represent the interests of Islamic students, a group that needs to be heard as it is so deeply involved in some of the most important arguments of modern times. And nowhere is debate more important than on a college campus. Giving the MSU a chance to provide a dissenting view is what college is all about, but so is giving the invited speaker a chance to give their side.

Now, you might be quick to think that we are aligning ourselves with the MSU’s rival group on campus, the Anteaters for Israel, which co-sponsored Oren’s visit, or the Jewish Federation Orange County, which reportedly lobbied politicians and the campus administration to punish the MSU. The purpose of this editorial is not to delve into the politics or religious dimension of the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli divide and its many complexities.

For us, it’s not about being Jewish or Muslim, or Israeli, Palestinian or Arab. It’s about being American and giving invited guests a chance to engage in that rare American quality: Free speech. The people who disrupted the lecture effectively prevented Oren from giving his speech and deprived fellow students and others in the audience of their right to express their opinions, exchange ideas and listen to another’s viewpoint.

Finally, we hope that Dean Talesh will give the MSU a fair hearing and review the case thoroughly, but we would not lament the group’s one-year suspension.