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Cal State Students Get '60s Relic Repealed--Can Protest in Peace

October 01, 1987|CLAUDIA LUTHER and BILL BILLITER | Times Staff Writers

When most of today's college students were in diapers, or perhaps not even born, a state law was passed that was the child of the '60s protest era.

Though widely considered unconstitutional, the 18-year-old law was in effect until a group of Cal State Fullerton students successfully took it upon themselves this year to get it repealed.

As a result of their efforts, Gov. George Deukmejian earlier this month signed a bill repealing the law.

The statutes in the law said that a student could lose financial aid if he or she "commits any act likely to disrupt" a state-supported campus.

"They were a period piece from the 1960s--something to curb student activity," said Sherry Skelly, legislative director of the California State Student Assn., a Sacramento-based organization that lobbies for students in the 19-campus California State University system. "The laws didn't say what it meant by 'likely to disrupt.' "

The law, as far as anyone could determine, had never been invoked. There were no court cases challenging it that could be found.

But still, it was the law. And at least one student at Cal State Fullerton, Charles Hollis, was fearful enough about it that he refused to participate in last year's protests on campus to the production of racist television tapings on campus by former Ku Klux Klan leader Tom Metzger.

The protests demanding that the university oust Metzger and his "Race and Reason" TV show were staged by the Coalition Against Apartheid in March and April of last year. Metzger and the tapings ultimately moved off campus to a community television studio.

Hollis told members of the coalition about the statute. Coalition leaders made further inquiries on the campus about the law, which they found affects all students at any public higher education campus in the state.

Told Not to Worry

"The financial aid office told us not to worry about it but Charles was still concerned," said Mike Vicencia, a coalition member who is the son of former Assemblyman Frank Vicencia (D-Bellflower). The coalition inquired further about the law with Cal State Fullerton administrators, who made it clear the statute would not be invoked. So Hollis went ahead and participated in the protests.

But it still bothered Vicencia and Ray Spencer, president of Cal State Fullerton's student government in 1986. When Vicencia later became director of legislative affairs of Cal State Fullerton's Associated Students, he brought it up to the AS board.

"We just thought that was wrong," Vicencia said. "If someone was getting financial aid and was aware of this clause, they may very well have hesitated to participate on campus. And we would never know."

Spencer and Vicencia, who graduated in June, took their message to the California State Student Assn., which agreed to help with legislation.

"These things sit around and people dredge them up at some volatile period and use them," said Skelly of the association.

State Sen. Nicholas C. Petris (D-Oakland), who often champions civil-liberties causes, agreed to sponsor the repeal bill for the student association.

As a part of the process, the legislative counsel office issued an opinion that the 1969 statute was an unconstitutional abridgement of free speech.

The repeal measure passed the Senate 39 to 0 and the Assembly 56 to 17. It will become effective Jan. 1.

Cal State Fullerton President Jewel Plummer Cobb said Tuesday that she was pleased that the governor had signed the Petris legislation.

"I'm proud that our students were active in the process," Cobb said. "We cannot tolerate a statute that intimidates students."

"The statute had never been used in anybody's memory in the system," said Scott Plotkin of the CSU governmental affairs office, which was neutral on the bill. "But it did come into play with some students who realized this was in the law."

He added, "If it's never going to be used and there's a feeling its unconstitutional, why not get rid of it?"

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