(New York, NY)—The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the First Amendment rights of a satirical student publication that had its funding jeopardized by a public university. In a statement today, PEN America called the ruling an important affirmation of free speech and press freedom on campus.

On July 24, the federal appeals court ruled in favor of student publication The Koala, holding that its lawsuit against the University of California, San Diego, can proceed after it was dismissed by a lower court in 2017. 

“Public institutions can’t withhold public dollars just because they don’t like what someone is saying—that’s First Amendment 101,” said Nora Benavidez, PEN America’s director of US Free Expression Programs. “In the university context, efforts to stifle student-run media and the expression of student viewpoints—even when they are repugnant or shocking—puts every student’s free expression rights at risk. We support The Koala’s opportunity to be heard on the merits of its case.”

The Koala, a student-run, self-described humor magazine, brought the lawsuit after the university sought to limit its funding by altering its student activity funding policy to exclude student media organizations. Notably, the university’s effort to update its policy came after The Koala published an article entitled “UCSD Unveils New Dangerous Space on Campus,” which parodied the concepts of “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces,” and included racial and ethnic slurs. The Ninth Circuit found that, despite the offensive nature of the publication’s writing, UCSD’s funding stricture “discriminates based on the identity of the speaker—here media organizations—and singles them out for disfavored access.”

PEN America has previously discussed the importance of free expression, academic freedom and open inquiry on college campuses in our 2019 report, Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America.


 PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, [email protected], +1 202 309 8892