"The worst in collegiate journalism since 1982!" The Koala, a student publication at the University of California, San Diego, boasts on its home page.
But a student publication is a student publication, whether it traffics in satire or offensive material (as many at UCSD believe The Koala does) or, more traditionally, in nonfake news. And if a public university allows student publications to compete with other student groups for funds, barring the publication in retaliation for content it published violates its free press and free speech rights, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned a lower court's 2017 ruling dismissing The Koala's lawsuit against UCSD. The appeals court found that the student publication had offered sufficient evidence to suggest the university (and its student government) had changed their policies for funding student groups to single out and retaliate against The Koala.
The Koala describes itself formally as "a student-run humor publication" and less formally as a "safe and clean atmosphere for normal UCSD students to get drunk (on life) and write funny stuff. We also are not as dumb as we look, so don’t f--- with us." Its history of alienating students earned it a 2014 profile in The New York Times with the headline "Free to Be Mean: Does This Student Satire Cross the Line?"
The university's student government tried multiple times to end funding for The Koala, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education says, but had been told repeatedly that it could not strip funding for any one publication without violating the First Amendment.