UCI committee recommends suspending Muslim student group

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 the recommendation is upheld, the Muslim Student Union, or MSU, will be suspended for the 2010-11 school year.

Reem Salahi, the attorney representing MSU, said the recommendation is unprecedented and would alienate hundreds of students.

“We disagree with the university’s finding of facts that the action of the students who stood was an officially sanctioned MSU activity,” she said. “We disagree with those findings as facts; we do not agree with the alleged violations.”

The recommendation is a result of an investigation conducted by the office of Student Affairs in response to the incident, in which 11 students were arrested, Lawhon said.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech about U.S.-Israeli relations was protested by students, who believe Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians are inhumane.

A letter sent to the MSU states the violation of five university policies as reasoning for the recommendation: fabricating and providing false information; disrupting a teaching or a research activity; disorderly conduct; participation of the disruption of the peace or unlawful assembly; and violating other local, state and federal laws.

The 14-page letter summarizes the months-long investigation, spells out how the students interrupted Oren’s speech, how faculty members and campus officials reacted and how the investigation was conducted. It does not show how the students allegedly fabricated information or broke local, state or federal laws.

The letter, which was sent by Lisa Cornish, senior executive director of student housing, states the recommendation to suspend MSU was based on personal observations by campus police and faculty members, the fact that the 11 students are represented by the same attorney, the fact that MSU discussed Oren’s visit prior to the event and a Google group e-mail discussing his visit.

University officials declined to provide further details.

“Since they are possibly going to be involved in an appeal, they cannot be going public in the media with their reasoning,” Lawhon said, adding that the letter provides all the details needed to support the recommendation.

The Jewish Federation Orange County released a statement hailing the suspension of the MSU. A call to the Jewish Federation was not returned Monday. An official from the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., declined comment.

In addition to the recommendation being unprecedented, Salahi said it is also tainted because it is influenced by outside organizations.

“I do think there’s a massive amount of pressure on the university to respond in a very harsh manner and we can see evidence of that,” she said. “The Jewish Federation issued a Public Records Act request to review this information and to ensure that there has been some sort of sanctions.

“There’s a lot of external pressure on the university. Normally, this is an internal process. This is not internal; this is external. This is not a final recommendation; this is a recommendation. The fact that the information was released prematurely is evidence of the pressure on the university.”

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called UCI’s recommendations Draconian.

“What happened at UCI and what happened off the coast of Gaza are very much related,” Ayloush said. “The peaceful and symbolic protests of the Israeli ambassador at UCI was a reflection of a growing worldwide campaign by human-rights activists to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians and its apartheid policies toward the Palestinian people and, in both cases, the reaction from the Israeli government and its U.S. supporters has been disproportionate and heavy-handed.”

Salahi said suspending MSU, a bustling organization on campus that was given this year’s Social Justice Award by the university’s Cross-Cultural Center, could negatively affect the lives of hundreds of students.

“It’s scary,” Salahi said. “It’s a scary way to have students who are 18- and 19-year-olds up against established organizations who have staff attorneys and are looking to sanction them.”

MSU has more than 100 active members and about 250 registered members.