Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Out Of The Courtroom And Back To Class

As Egyptians stand up to their authoritarian president on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, 11 UC Irvine students may face criminal prosecution for disrupting an on-campus speech by the Israeli ambassador last February. At the Orange County DA's office yesterday, 50 people (some shown here) gathered to protest a grand jury investigation of the 11.

Ambassador Michael Oren finished his speech after the protesters were arrested. The university suspended the Muslim Student Union for a year, though the organization denied any involvement in the incident. As the Times reports this morning:
Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of UC Irvine's law school, said the issue is not about free speech or expression but about appropriate punishment.

"I don't think the D.A. should press charges, but what the students did wasn't freedom of expression," he said.

"I favor them being punished by the university because what they did was wrong," he said, adding that "university discipline is sufficient."
Chemerinsky is no enemy of free expression, so his nuance is important. You can't use your rights to deprive someone of his. That's the first irony of the Egypt comparison, since those who do enjoy the blessings of freedom must use it discerningly. A college or university campus is one place where a legitimate spokesman for a point of view -- the ambassador of a sovereign nation and vital U.S. ally definitely falls into that category -- is entitled to expect to find open minds and pointed but civil debate.

Instead, young people who may not fully appreciate the purposes of a liberal education nor the privilege of attending one of the greatest universities in the world at still-popular prices end up wasting their time and our money on street theater. When it comes to UCI, I'm not just talking about the anti-Israel club.

But criminal prosecution of student protesters sounds like a Mubarak move. Unless he has evidence that the students were up to something worse than being obnoxious, DA Tony Rackauckas and his grand jury should close the books on this case in the hope that the young people will open theirs and get back to class.

1 comment:

Robyn Henk said...

Interesting article -- some good perspectives on a sometimes complicated civil right.