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UCLA Drops Demand That Online Critic Stop Using "UCLA" in His Web Site:

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reports:

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has withdrawn its unconstitutional demand that a former student take down a website criticizing the university. UCLA had demanded that Tom Wilde shut down his private, non-commercial website, ucla-weeding101.info, by last Monday.... [Y]esterday, only a few hours after FIRE publicized Wilde's case, UCLA informed FIRE that its demands against Wilde were being withdrawn.

"Kudos to UCLA for quickly realizing that the First Amendment protects criticism of the university -- even online," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "UCLA's prompt and welcome recognition of the First Amendment freedoms at stake should send a powerful message to other California public colleges that have made similar threats, such as Santa Rosa Junior College, that the law does not support their position."

Wilde launched the website ucla-weeding101.info last month to argue that he was "weeded out" of UCLA's Graduate School of Education for his dissenting views. On August 6, UCLA Senior Campus Counsel Patricia M. Jasper sent Wilde a letter arguing that the domain name constituted "trademark infringement and dilution" and suggested the website might be a criminal offense under the California Education Code. Jasper also wrote that UCLA was acting in part to protect its "reputation" and ordered Wilde to shut down the site by August 17.

FIRE immediately wrote UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block, pointing out that no reasonable person would mistake Wilde's site as being an official UCLA site or having the college's endorsement, and that the First Amendment protects the use of organization names on "cybergriping" sites. Further, although a disclaimer for such an obviously unaffiliated site is legally unnecessary, the site now contains a prominent statement explicitly alerting readers that the site is "not supported, endorsed, or authorized by UCLA or the University of California."

On August 18, Jasper notified FIRE that FIRE's letter was under review and that she "anticipate[d] having a fuller response ... in the very near future." Yesterday, FIRE took the case public, and within hours Jasper faxed FIRE to say that, while the university would appreciate more changes to the site, "[i]n any event, the University hereby withdraws the demands made upon Mr. Wilde in our letter to him of August 6, 2009." ...

My sense is that the original demand was mistaken, for reasons I've discussed before -- the First Amendment protects people's right to use other entities' names (certainly including government agencies' names) in criticizing them.

When the use is commercial and likely to mislead reasonable consumers, for instance if someone sells T-shirts with the UCLA name in a context which leads people to falsely believe the sale is authorized by UCLA, that could indeed be punished. It's possible that such commercial sales might even be punished if there's a disclaimer announcing that the seller is entirely independent of the university (though I think that they shouldn't be, and that people and institutions shouldn't have a monopoly on the use of their names in merchandising, whether under the right of publicity for people's names or under trademark law for institutions and products). But when it's clear that the use is critical of the institution, and especially in a noncommercial context, there seems to me no basis for stripping the speech of constitutional protection.

In any case, while UCLA started out wrong on this, I'm very happy that it has withdrawn its demand.

Disclosure: I will be a keynote speaker at FIRE's 10th Anniversary event this October. Also, as I expect most of our readers know, I teach at UCLA School of Law.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. againstvolokhconspiracyblog.com:
  2. UCLA Drops Demand That Online Critic Stop Using "UCLA" in His Web Site:
John Thacker (mail):
When the use is commercial and likely to mislead reasonable consumers, for instance if someone sells T-shirts with the UCLA name in a context which leads people to falsely believe the sale is authorized by UCLA, that could indeed be punished. It's possible that such commercial sales might even be punished if there's a disclaimer announcing that the seller is entirely independent of the university.


There is a shop located near Duke University that sells (officially licensed) T-shirts and other items. It was, perhaps 20-25 years ago, called "The Duke Shop." After the University complained and threatened to sue, the name was changed to "The Duck Shop."
8.21.2009 1:24pm
John Thacker (mail):
8.21.2009 1:26pm
mic deniro (mail):
UCSB tried the same thing when it tried to shut down "The Dark Side of UCSB." http://www.thedarksideofucsb.com

FIRE suceeded in that case as well. http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/5231.html

You would think the attorneys in the UC Office of General Counsel would have learned their lesson.
8.21.2009 1:59pm
Lior:
I find it quite a alarming that the Constitution has to be invoked for the proposition that it is acceptable to refer to an organization by the name the organization has chosen for itself.
8.21.2009 2:01pm
Crunchy Frog:

You would think the attorneys in the UC Office of General Counsel would have learned their lesson.

What lesson? No heads rolled. No pink slips issued. Nobody got fined, or sent to jail as a result.

As long as the only consequence to being an officious thug is being required to occasionally stop being one, nothing will change.
8.21.2009 2:04pm
Houston Lawyer:
If you want to get fired as a public official, just try having some politically incorrect fun.
8.21.2009 2:09pm
Hannibal Lector:
I took a quick look at the student's site. The termination of this student suggests that -- at least in this case -- UCLA's graduate school of education has performed one of it's primary functions quite well: An intelligent, articulate, and motivated student has been stymied in his attempts to become a teacher.

Efforts like these are neccessary to maintain the current level of educational quality that so distinguishes the nation's public schools.
8.21.2009 2:19pm
ArthurKirkland:
I believe Mr. Wilde is entitled to rail against UCLA, by name.

I also believe he (1) was dismissed for poor grades rather than "dissenting views," because the only dissent apparent from his website concerns the institutional decision to terminate his studies for inadequate grades and/or (2) has assembled a strikingly poor website.
8.21.2009 2:48pm
troll_dc2 (mail):
Should I be able to set up a Web site called againstvolokhconspiracyblog.com without being challenged?
8.21.2009 2:56pm
Hannibal Lector:
ArthurKirkland:
he (1) was dismissed for poor grades
If you had actually read and understood his website you would realize that:

(1) the graduate school terminated him solely because his official transcript incorrectly suggested that his GPA was below 3.0;

(2) this transcript was in error because of bureaucratic errors by the graduate school;

(3) his grades were actually perfectly adequate according to published graduate school criteria;

(4)despite repeated communications by the student and his teachers the graduate school failed to rectify these errors and reinstate the student.

This is all thoroughly documented on the website in a way that is exceptionally easy to navigate. The student also writes more cogently than most of the grad students it has been my nmisfortune to teach in the last five years.

I honestly don't know where you are coming from. Do you have trouble navigating websites, or reading for comprehension, or are you perhaps affiliated with UCLA's bureaucracy?
8.21.2009 3:09pm
AJK:

I honestly don't know where you are coming from. Do you have trouble navigating websites, or reading for comprehension, or are you perhaps affiliated with UCLA's bureaucracy?


I tried very hard to find some idea of what views he was "weeded out" for holding, with no success. I also felt that the website was extraordinarily poorly designed, but if you want to attribute that to my poor browsing skills, I'll accet that criticism.
8.21.2009 4:16pm
pete (mail) (www):

I tried very hard to find some idea of what views he was "weeded out" for holding, with no success. I also felt that the website was extraordinarily poorly designed, but if you want to attribute that to my poor browsing skills, I'll accet that criticism.


Yeah it looks like he was "weeded" out because he had some incompletes and then after finishing them someone might have screwed up with his grade reporting. The giant Chomsky quotes make me suspect he might have annoyed the wrong administrator at some point, which made them reluctant to fix it if it was an honest mistake.

As someone who has worked in a government bureaucracy my advice when you have a problem with your records the best approach is to be very polite and understanding with the person you talk to since if it was an honest mistake then they are usually fine fixing it. Do not accuse them of harboring a grudge against you or your beliefs just because things do not go your way at first unless you have really solid evidence that this is the case since that just pisses them off.
8.21.2009 4:38pm
A Reply to Hannibal Lector:
Hannibal Lector: This guy got a B- in one of his graduate courses. UCLA's policy states (as provided on Tom Wilde's website) that "UCLA requires at least a 'B' (3.0) average in all courses taken in graduate status at the University, and in all courses applied toward advanced degrees." (emphasis added). Thus, it seems to me that UCLA had a perfectly good reason for terminating his graduate student status. I'm not denying that improper motives may have been at play, but there is also a facially sufficient reason. Further, the letter terminating his status isn't necessarily inconsistent with such a justification ("low grade point average"). All this being said, I find UCLA's efforts to shut down Mr. Wilde's website reprehensible.
8.21.2009 4:41pm
pete (mail) (www):

This guy got a B- in one of his graduate courses. UCLA's policy states (as provided on Tom Wilde's website) that "UCLA requires at least a 'B' (3.0) average in all courses taken in graduate status at the University, and in all courses applied toward advanced degrees." (emphasis added).


This is off topic, but what is the point of having C's D's and F's if a B- will get you kicked out. At that point just make everything pass fail.

My grad school had a similar requirement that you had to get a B average to graduate and that for some specific core courses you had to get a B or higher to graduate. I knew a couple of people who had to retake those to get a B, but you did not get permanently kicked out if you got a C.
8.21.2009 4:51pm
A reply to the guy who replied to Hannibal Lector:
"Hannibal Lector: This guy got a B- in one of his graduate courses. UCLA's policy states (as provided on Tom Wilde's website) that "UCLA requires at least a 'B' (3.0) average in all courses taken in graduate status at the University, and in all courses applied toward advanced degrees." (emphasis added)."

Aren't you misreading UCLA's policy? UCLA requires "at least a 'B' (3.0) average". First, I don't see how the grade in one class could be seen as an average (i.e., it is only a single data point). Second, if a below-B grade was sufficient grounds for dismissal, why have a policy requiring an average? The first below-B grade would result in expulsion without regard to wehter the student's gpa was below a 3.0.
8.21.2009 5:12pm
ArthurKirkland:
I attempted to understand the website. At best, this fellow crammed a quarter-page of relevant information into two dozen pages of shambling. I found (my search was not exhaustive, but after four or five minutes of wandering through a thicket I abandoned the search) no evidence of any "dissenting viewpoint."

If Mr. Wilde has a point, he fails to identify it.

There is no requirement that protected expression be effective, relevant or sensible. If FIRE defended this expression, my compliments. But FIRE's reference to "dissenting views" makes no sense, so far as I can tell. Maybe it helps with fundraising.
8.21.2009 5:26pm
JRD (mail):
Would somebody report UCLA attorney Patricia Jasper to the State Bar already? Threatening criminal action (even merely referencing it in a letter) in order to gain an advantage in a current or potential civil matter (as the threat to sue over the website was) is a violation of Rule of Professional Conduct 5-100.
8.22.2009 12:53am
Gerry Barnett (mail):
"University of California" and related identifiers are covered under California Educational Code 92000. Note that paragraph (a)(3) prohibits display or announcement of a name that uses a reserved name or abbreviation. This statute is recited at the UC Office of the President web site.

This statute comes into play, for instance, to prevent companies from reporting without permission that they have licensed technology from UC. The desired purpose, perhaps, is to prevent companies from representing their association as an endorsement by the university or state, but the law goes well beyond restating ordinary trademark rights.
8.22.2009 12:55pm
Tom Wilde (mail) (www):
I think what a person might want to do in a case such as this is simply pose as an extreme bungler (whether in writing or website building skills) and scatter the facts around incoherently. The benefit of this approach is that it allows one to fairly rapidly discern who's actually interested in facts (and academic and ethical principles), and who's looking to confirm their belief that such an apparent bungler has no business even being in higher education (so the university merely helped cut short this student's inevitable failure). My guess (and hope) is that those faculty members who are interested in facts will see this case as an opportunity to fulfill their oft-touted job requirements (at least as these are found in the Faculty Code of Conduct) and work to support the academic and ethical principles (and UCLA's mission statement) which UCLA uses quite effectively in its massive global marketing campaign. After all, insofar as some might be champions of the "free market," don't they too want truth in advertising?

As for the dissenting views thing: I don't say this anywhere on my site because I don't think this is (now) the central issue here. Rather, we might ask ourselves a much more simple question, one that I made reference to in my "experiment."
Namely, Would the Chancellor's UCLA-going son/daughter ever be sent home permanently with these documents in hand?

I appreciate all the comments here, but it nonetheless seems clear to me from many of these posts that this simple question is quite invisible to the minds of many. And for good reason. Or else Volokh himself would simply have to tell us that he cannot participate in the central operations of his own distinguished university. And this rightly brings us back to the quotes by Chomsky and Graeber.
8.22.2009 7:13pm
2cents (mail):
Tom,

I am not sure about the merits of your case (I could not read the transcript on the site and it is unclear to me what your grades are). I do think you have some valid points and will assume that you are correct in your position that you should not have been dismissed.

With that as a starting point, I think you have dug your heels in and have likely hurt your (presumed) goal of continuing your studies. Standing up and fighting for what you believe in and pointing out injustice are admirable qualities. But those qualities do not always comport with reaching your goals. I am not commenting on whether you were "right" or "wrong" in taking action. I just comment that you may have sacrificed getting the result you want.

On page 2 of the document you sent to the committee, you wrote that the committee asked you for several documents. It is unclear that you supplied those documents but you did spend about half a page telling them that their request was inappropriate and irrelevant. That may be the case, but remember, you were asking them to to re-instate you. Whether right or wrong, in order to maximize your chances, you should comply with their requests in a respectful manner (even if they are not deserving of that respect) if you want a positive response. I have to think the website does not help the esteem they hold you in (though, I am unclear when you set up the site in relation to your dismissal and subsequent appeals).

I think it comes down to a balancing of what goal is most important to you: 1) making the point about the injustices or 2) getting back into school. If the answer is number 2, I think you should consider doing anything to placate them. If the answer is number 1, then I guess you are already doing what you need to do. Not many people have the intestinal fortitude to pick number 1, so if this is your choice, then you are a rare individual. If number 2 is your goal, then you may not realize that you are likely going about this in the wrong way.

Good luck!
8.22.2009 10:49pm
2cents (mail):
Just realized looking at later pages that these events occurred as late as 2000. So, it appears clear how this played out.
8.22.2009 11:02pm

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