The graduate student government passed a series of resolutions Wednesday to address concerns about its funding restrictions, which pro-Palestine legal groups concluded was a violation of students’ First Amendment rights.
In October, Graduate Students Association President Milan Chatterjee granted the Diversity Caucus, a social welfare student organization, funding for a town hall so long as it was not associated with groups who took stances on divestment from Israel.
Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA, which had a table at the Diversity Caucus town hall, contacted three pro-Palestine legal groups to investigate the legality of Chatterjee’s conditions. The legal groups concluded Chatterjee violated students’ First Amendment rights by threatening to rescind funding if groups such as SJP were involved.
GSA council members passed a resolution at Wednesday’s meeting stating all future GSA funding decisions will not take viewpoint into account, said Katherine Myers, who represented the Biological Sciences Council, at the meeting.
She added Chatterjee did not attend the GSA meeting Wednesday.
The association passed another motion that called for a subcommittee to investigate Chatterjee’s and the GSA cabinet’s actions, Myers said.
She added the council felt Chatterjee’s one-sided defense was hypocritical because he requested members not discuss the issue further until UCLA lawyers weighed in, but she has received 11 emails since Dec. 3 from Chatterjee regarding the neutrality issue, all of which defend his and the GSA’s actions.
Mohannad Ghawanmeh, who resigned from the GSA cabinet last November, made a public comment at the forum accusing Chatterjee of engaging in retaliatory behavior against some GSA members over email, Myers said.
Chatterjee declined to comment about allegations that he has sent inappropriate emails to GSA members.
Myers said the council also passed a motion requesting Chatterjee to stop using his GSA email.
In an email to GSA and SJP members, Chatterjee said he regrets encouraging the GSA cabinet to sponsor the Diversity Caucus, helping the caucus scale down its initial catering budget and connecting the Diversity Caucus to the undergraduate student government’s leadership.
“We feel that Milan is speaking for himself, not for the GSA,” Myers said. “He is welcome to defend himself, but he should do so in a fair manner that does not offend any of our students,” Myers said. “If he requests that we not discuss his nor the GSA’s actions, he should refrain from doing so himself.”
Myers added she thinks the use of the GSA president’s email account to send a fake apology was unprofessional and not representative of the GSA or its councils.
Rahim Kurwa, a member of SJP, said Chatterjee sent inappropriate emails to Manpreet Dhillon, a member of the Diversity Caucus, and to her boss. Dhillon said she has taken her case against GSA to the Dean of Students.
“There are lots of students whose faith in their First Amendment rights being respected has been shaken, and it will take a lot of work to repair this,” Kurwa said.
Chatterjee said he is glad the resolutions have passed and is confident the GSA has not violated anyone’s First Amendment rights.
“They can investigate me if they want,” Chatterjee said. “I have nothing to hide.”
The GSA subcommittee will decide whether to recommend any punitive action sometime in March, said Joel Lanzaga, GSA vice president of academic affairs.