Irvine Community and Jewish Groups React to Muslim Student Union Suspension

The University of California, Irvine (UCI) is the second youngest campus in the California state university system. UCI has made its mark among prestigious American universities, steadily rising in the U.S. News & World Report ratings of “America’s Best Colleges.” Following the al-Qaeda terror attacks on September 11, 2001, however, the prestigious and relatively subdued Orange County campus began drawing attention and earning a reputation as a breeding ground for anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-Semitic sentiment.

At UCI, certain registered student groups, while claiming to exercise rights to free speech, have violated state and university policy. This is particularly true of the Muslim Student Union (MSU), which is part of the national network of the Muslim Students Association (MSA). The organization, more than any other campus group, is known for its seditious rhetoric and hostile, militant activities. Several students and faculty have reported feeling intimidated or even frightened in the presence of MSU members. Such victims have often chosen to remain silent rather than oppose campus organizations whose confrontational tactics and agendas were, over recent years, increasingly tolerated by the university administration and community. As a result of its members' belligerent and sometimes violent behavior, Irvine’s MSU has rendered itself among the most severely hostile Muslim student organizations in North America.

That is why UCI’s latest move, which was initially publicized by the Jewish Federation of Orange County, has attracted particular interest. UCI’s administration made an unprecedented decision to suspend the MSU for a full year. The decision was made after a school investigation found that the organization planned disruptions during a February speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. The decision to suspend the group was not so much about the fact that the MSU disrupted a speech, but that the group later lied about its intentions and actions.

The suspension, if appeals by the Muslim Student Union are unsuccessful, will take effect during the 2010-2011 school term. The chapter will also be required to complete 50 hours of community service before it is able to file appropriate paperwork to have the organization reinstated. If the group is successful in that procedure, it will, however, face a year of disciplinary probation following reinstatement.

In a letter dated May 27, 2010, Senior Executive Director of Student Housing Lisa Cornish detailed the findings of the school investigation. The 14 pages detail that the MSU violated four separate school policies involving dishonesty, obstructing disciplinary procedures, disorderly conduct, and "participation in a disturbance of the peace of unlawful assembly.” These violations transpired during a talk given by Michael Oren on February 8. His remarks were interrupted at least 10 different times by students, including those who repeated the tiresome canard of an Israeli genocide and who shouted accusations that Oren was a murderer and a war criminal. Oren briefly suspended his talk, resuming it only after school officials tried to restore order and repeatedly advised the audience that the outbursts violated student conduct codes.

Prior to the disturbance of the event, UCI officials were notified that there was an organized plan to disrupt the speech. The Investigative Project on Terrorism cited emails in which an MSU official wrote:

"We've already discussed the different options in the GA (general assembly) meeting and we took a vote," a February 4 email to the MSU board said. "So now that we have voted on one method of action, we all go through this together, insha'Allah ta'ala together as one MSU … one Ummah."

Officers from the MSU denied that their protest at the Oren event was an organized effort, stating that actions were carried out by individuals and were not on behalf of the MSU. In particular, MSU President Mohamed Abdelgany wrote the following:

I would first like to say that all of my actions on Monday were done out of my own individual accord and were not on behalf of the Muslim Student Union or any other organization at UC Irvine.

The spokesperson for the MSU, Hadeer Soliman, went on the record with the Los Angeles Times stating that the disruption "was not put on by the MSU, but rather by students acting on their own." Soliman made the same claim in an editorial written for UCI’s official school paper. Screenshots of MSU emails are available on the Investigative Project for Terrorism website.

UCI's investigation concluded that "the disruptions were planned, orchestrated and coordinated by the Muslim Student Union." Furthermore, a spokesperson for the university, Cathy Lawhon, also noted that the members of panel which conducted the inquiry “have had no prior issues with the group.” Cornish’s letter also cites the February 3 MSU meeting in which a stated goal was to send Oren a message “that he knows that he can't just go to a campus and say whatever he wants" by "push[ing] the envelope.”

The MSU issued a statement that the group plans to appeal the university’s recommendation of suspension. The group maintains that the students who disrupted Oren "acted in their personal capacity."

In her letter, Cornish said MSU members invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in response to her questions. Cornish also noted that there were several occasions during the Oren event in which MSU members were warned to stop.