Friday, February 21

Aram Ghoogasian: Graduate Students Association President Milan Chatterjee should resign

(Kelly Brennan/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Reports of free speech’s death on our campus are often exaggerated.

But now that the UCLA graduate student government has violated the First Amendment in its attempt to silence student activists, such claims carry a bit more weight.

At the center of it all is a chain of emails sent by Graduate Students Association President Milan Chatterjee. He found it appropriate to threaten to withhold funding for the recent Diversity Caucus Town Hall unless the organizers of the event ensured that it have “zero connection with ‘Divest from Israel’ or any equivalent movement/organization.”

These comments attracted the attention and harsh criticism of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal, who claim the policy constitutes “blatant, unconstitutional discrimination.”

The GSA president countered by asserting that his policy is an attempt to remain neutral on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Chatterjee is clearly unfit to act as the chief representative of the graduate student body if he is hell-bent on silencing certain voices and using public funds to advance this agenda. Although the office doesn’t hold much power, letting these actions go unpunished sets an unsettling precedent.

To preserve what little integrity he may have left, Chatterjee must resign immediately. Should he decide against quitting on his own terms, steps should be taken to remove him from his post as GSA president.

In an attempt to save face, Chatterjee resorted to dishonesty to defend his actions, claiming that GSA passed a resolution to remain neutral on matters pertaining to the contentious conflict.

For one, a resolution with no legal weight does not exempt GSA from violating the First Amendment. Even so, the supposed resolution was passed Oct. 26, 10 days after he threatened to deny funding to the town hall. When asked for the minutes of the meeting in which the resolution was purportedly passed, Chatterjee referred Students for Justice in Palestine to UCLA’s legal department.

He later contradicted himself, saying in a emailed statement that the “GSA Cabinet considered a conceptual resolution,” not an actual resolution as he had told The Bruin last week.

At best, Chatterjee used a flimsy excuse to dig his way out of the hole he so painstakingly dug for himself. At worst, he was lying.

In yet another ill-conceived attempt to shield himself from criticism, Chatterjee claimed he’d withhold funding from the town hall if it included anti-divestment groups as well.

But such logic simply doesn’t hold up. If an anti-divestment group was targeted alongside a pro-divestment one, Chatterjee would still be guilty of withholding funds based on a student group’s political stance. He claims that GSA must remain neutral on Israel-Palestine, but silencing both sides still amounts to discrimination against students who decide to concern themselves with the conflict.

In a moment of delicious irony, he writes that the association he heads respects “the First Amendment rights of individual students,” but follows up with an email stating that “GSA won’t be able to provide funding” if pro-divestment groups are involved in the event.

What is perhaps most disturbing of all is that Chatterjee doesn’t seem to know that what he did was wrong; he has yet to apologize or revoke the policy. In a move that only magnifies his oafish buffoonery, he is shifting the blame to SJP, saying the group “resorted to legal intimidation” and dismissing its legitimate case as a “smear campaign.”

Such actions, by a student at the UCLA School of Law, no less, betray gross indiscretion and display incredibly high levels of ignorance. By requiring the exclusion of pro-divestment student groups from the town hall as a precondition for a funding allocation, Chatterjee attempted to suppress constitutionally protected speech. Under no circumstances should this type of behavior be tolerated.

If Chatterjee is allowed to retract the policy with no repercussions, the message we’re sending is that discriminating against certain students because of their opinions isn’t a serious offense. If he merely undoes his actions and remains GSA president, there is no serious deterrent to those who may want to replicate such policies in the future.

The bottom line is that Chatterjee thinks allocating funds for an event with the prerequisite that no group involved should represent a certain opinion is permissible when, in fact, it isn’t.

Free speech is far from dead at UCLA, but we have a real problem on our hands and it needs to be rectified as soon as possible. Making an example of Chatterjee is the first step.

Opinion columnist

Aram Ghoogasian is an opinion columnist and a member of the Daily Bruin Editorial Board. He often opines about labor issues, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the University of California.

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  • Milan Chatterjee
  • hypocrisy

    “ASUCLA Student interaction fund prohibits organizations from using funds to support religious and partisan events” – Does Milan Chatterjee understand what that means ?

    ASUCLA cannot fund an event that requires you to be a certain religion or be a member of a certain political party. Speech you don’t agree with doesn’t make it a religious or partisan event. There was no religious or partisan test for any SJP event. Get it ? Now just resign.

  • Zachary Gidding

    Whatever you feel about Milan Chatterjee’s positions in this matter, this writing is unnecessarily ad hominem. Whatever the constitutionality of the neutrality policy (a question for Legal Affairs, in any event) or whether it’s appropriate for our institution, calling his disagreement “oafish buffoonery” is unworthy of reasoned discourse. A minimum of civility, please.

    • Erica Ramirez

      The great thing about freedom of speech is that it gets other people to think. This is a well written article that will get students like me to think about how important free speech is to them. Obviously, Chatterjee has a lot to think about at the moment but this is the natural consequence for what he did. If you try to silence a voice, even a whisper, the voices get louder. I was unaware of this issue until now, and with so much in the press about college campus and free speech it definitely concerns me that this happened at my campus. Issues like this are getting worse and I applaud the authors bravery to call for a resignation, regardless of comments like yours that tricked up on small exaggerations for the premise of the article itself.

    • annie fofani

      i think you have a fundamental misunderstanding of what an ad hominem argument is. an ad hominem argument “is an attack on an argument made by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, rather than attacking the argument directly.” characterizing Chatterjee’s actions merely as “oafish buffoonery” could constitute an ad homonem. but ghoogasian didn’t do that. he built a case against him in detail, point by point demonstrating Chatterjee’s actions and then after making his points stated “Chatterjee doesn’t seem to know that what he did was wrong” and only referencing Chatterjee’s move to shift the blame to SJP as “oafish buffoonery”. not ad hominem in the least.

      • SJP Sucks

        Annie Fofani, you’re an unsuccessful loser (ceramic artist) who has nothing to do in life but spread anti-semitism. Obviously, you didn’t achieve much in your career, so you waste your time writing nonsense. Instead of attacking people less than half your age, you should do something more productive with your time.

  • Nazik

    The GSA has admitted to lying about the resolution. It never existed nor was anything like it even presented to forum. It’s pretty clear from the original emails, the GSA cabinet was restricting ONLY ONE viewpoint. A viewpoint supported by several student organizations and endorsed by the majority of graduate students. GSA clearly misused its position of power over funds to stop a viewpoint they personally disagree with. Just compare Milan’s explanations to the words in these emails, then consider whether or not this person is fit to be GSA president.

  • annie fofani

    thanks for the excellent article

    • SJP Sucks

      Annie Fofani, stop engaging in college politics. You had the opportunity to do this 40-50 years ago. You should do more productive things with your time.

  • SJP Sucks

    SJP’s Rahim Kurwa profiled on Canary Mission for anti-semitist activities:

  • SJP Sucks

    SJP’s Agatha Palma profiled on Canary Mission for anti-semitist activities:

  • SJP Sucks

    SJP’s Yacoub Kureh targeted the dorm rooms of Jewish undergraduates to place “mock eviction notices”:

  • SJP Sucks

    Aram Ghoogasian is a total joke. He’s a pro-BDS quack who represent’s SJP’s arm on the Daily Bruin. Now that he feels his political agenda is under threat, he’s viciously attacking people. Virtually everyone–except a handful of radical quacks–find Aram Ghoogasian to be a clown. He writes like one, acts like one, and looks like one. After writing such a dishonest article, the only person who should be resigning is Aram Ghoogasian.

  • SJP Sucks

    Daily Bruin writer Aram Ghoogasian should resign for being a clown and loser.