University of California, San Diego, administrators are taking a tough stand against pornography on the campus’s Student-Run Television Station (SRTV), saying they will ignore this week’s vote by students to permit airing of sexual content.
A ban on graphic sex and nudity was put in place following an October broadcast of a student-produced show called “Koala TV.” The racy program featured then-student Steve York engaging in sex with a paid adult-film actress posing as a UCSD student. Previous episodes had shown pornographic material.
SRTV offers closed-circuit programming to approximately 8,000 students housed on campus.
For several months, the university allowed student government to work to resolve the resulting controversy. Campus leaders voted to ban sex from the program lineup and then reversed twice themselves, resulting in York and other students petitioning for a special election to permit sex and the university shutting down the station.
“The students spoke, as far as I’m concerned,” said York, who believes the vote signals a strong mandate from students and promises to continue fighting the administration, even though he completed his course work last quarter and is no longer an enrolled student.
“It wasn’t a landslide,” said Gary Ratcliff, acting assistant vice chancellor for student life, noting that only 16 percent of undergraduates took part in the 1,708-1,446 online ballot. “Our view is the majority of students support the values of the university and they don’t believe the (campus cable network) should be a forum for airing pornographic material.”
Allowing students to decide what shows on the SRTV is like letting students vote on faculty salaries, Ratcliff told the San Diego Union Tribune.
“It’s just not within their authority,” Ratcliff said.
UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox was more circumspect, perhaps hoping to avoid raising First Amendment issues.
“We’re not taking a position on content,” Fox said. “We’ve never said we’re controlling content.”
Administrators insist the decision to pull the plug on the station in November was not censorship and that programming can resume once student leaders rewrite the station’s charter to increase accountability and ensure rules and guidelines will be upheld. In the meantime, however, this week’s vote for TV sex changes nothing.
Some students are threatening legal action if the university ignores the majority vote. According to California Western School of Law professor Robert Dekoven, federal court rulings, which have traditionally sided with students on free speech issues, have more recently given weight to assertions by universities to control content produced in their facilities.