UCI Students Waive the Flag! Release the Demagogues and Angry Candidates! (UPDATE: Vetoed!) (UPDATE 2: Intimidated!)

UCI and US flags

Is UCI trying to eclipse the USA, or is something more legitimate happening?

Oh boy — the UCI flag controversy has hit the media, and surely this will not turn out well.  But we have to cover it.  And, being who we are, we will try to take what’s happening as real news rather than as spectacle.  (Offer does not extend to all of our commenters, of course.)

UCI’s student government has passed a resolution that is already being widely misinterpreted, but this is one of those situations where the truth won’t matter.  It’s going to be a massacre, a rout, and it will have a rebound effect that will probably leave things worse off than they were before.  They have roused the beast of demagoguery, and it will not return to its lair until its thirst has been slaked.  Because if there’s anything that can still get the public aroused, it’s some sort of symbolic protest that really doesn’t matter.  Nevertheless: KILL THE WITCHES!

The student government passed a resolution that did one of the following:

(a) Called for burning of all U.S. flags on the UCI campus
(b) Called for removal of the U.S. flag from the entire campus
(c) Called for removal of the U.S. flag from campus classrooms
(d) Called for barring the U.S. flag from the Associated Students of UCI lobby
(e) Called for barring hanging the U.S. flag on the walls of the ASUCI lobby
(f) Called for barring hanging all national flags on the walls of the ASUCI lobby

As you may have guessed, the correct answer is (a) … no, sorry, I had the answer key backwards — it’s (f)!  (My bad.)

One thing to keep in mind at the outset is: at least most of us outside of ASUCI don’t know what prompted this resolution.  Did someone try to put oversized American flags over all of the walls in a pugnacious show of nationalism?  Was there an “arms race” between some students putting up Palestinian flags and others putting up more Israeli flags, and then more of the former and more of the latter, crowding out everything else and making the room an unpleasant place to be?  Or was it just some students trying to figure out how to navigate the shoals between allowing freedom of expression and freedom from mandatory imposition of political indoctrination — the latter being something that a great university is supposed to reject?  Before the tar boils and the feathers are gathered, oughtn’t we know?

It’s the “Whereas” clauses that are going to provoke the calls for expulsions, torture, defunding the university, closing social science programs, etc.  So let’s look at the whole resolution and see what the shouting — and I literally mean SHOUTING — is going to be about.  I’ve taken the trouble of adding numbering the clauses for ease of discussion.  (I’ve also added a little color, for decorative purposes.)


All requests may be typed and submitted to the Executive Vice President no later 5:00 p.m. Thursday in order to be included in the agenda for the following Tuesday. The Executive Vice President reserves the right to delay the Request for Action to a later Council session if the Executive Vice President feels the agenda for the next schedule meeting is full.

Item Number: 81
Legislation Number (B: Bill, R: Resolution): R50-70
Author:   Matthew Guevara  Second:  Khaalidah Sidney
Synopsis: Flags and decoration adjustment for inclusivity
Date of Presentation: March 3rd, 2015 

  1. Whereas flags are a symbol of a nation, are used as decorations and have a wide range of cultural significance.
  2. Whereas flags are typically viewed as patriotic symbols of a single nation, are often associated with government and military due to their history and have a wide variety of interpretations.
  3. Whereas the traditional patriotic interpretation of a flag is a result of a nation and/or persons who encourage a nationalistic understanding of the flag.
  4. Whereas traditional understandings and ideologies, as encouraged by the national government, include liberty, democracy, constitution values and are up for interpretation on constituents.
  5. Whereas flags not only serve as symbols of patriotism or weapons for nationalism, but also construct cultural mythologies and narratives that in turn charge nationalistic sentiments.
  6. Whereas flags function specifically for a nation and
  7. Whereas people are assimilated into national ideologies by deployment of this cultural artifact.
  8. Whereas flags construct paradigms of conformity and sets homogenized standards for others to obtain which in this country typically are idolized as freedom, equality, and democracy.
  9. Whereas symbolism is interpreted differently by different groups or persons based on individual unique experiences.
  10. Whereas a common ideological understanding of the United states includes American exceptionalism and superiority.
  11. Whereas the American flag is commonly flown in government public service locations, military related entities, at homes, in foreign lands where the US government has a presence.
  12. Whereas the American flag has been flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism.
  13. Whereas symbolism has negative and positive aspects that are interpreted differently by individuals.
  14. Whereas displaying a flag does not express only selective aspects of its symbolism but the entire spectrum of its interpretation.
  15. Whereas designing a culturally inclusive space is taken seriously by ASUCI
  16. Whereas designing a culturally inclusive space aims to remove barriers that create undue effort and separation by planning and designing spaces that enable everyone to participate equally and confidently.
  17. Whereas the removal of barriers is the best option at promoting an inclusive space.
  18. Whereas it is a psychological effect for individuals to identify negative aspects of a space rather than positive ones.
  19. Whereas whenever public spaces are produced and managed by narrow interests, they are bound to become exclusive places and
  20. Whereas the planning process must be inclusive in such that designers are advised to forget about the ‘average’ user or themselves and instead begin the open space designing process with ‘deep knowledge’ of the preferences of the actual communities who are likely to use those spaces
  21. Whereas designers should be careful about using cultural symbols as the symbols will inherently remain open for interpretation.
  22. Whereas once an open space is created, it is important to employ continual evaluation in order to understand changing use patterns and needs over time.
  23. Whereas a high-quality culturally inclusive spaces is essential in any society that embodies a dynamic and multifaceted culture
  24. Whereas freedom of speech is a valued right that ASUCI supports.
  25. Whereas freedom of speech, in a space that aims to be as inclusive as possible can be interpreted as hate speech.
  26. Let it be resolved that ASUCI make every effort to make the Associated Students main lobby space as inclusive as possible.
  27. Let it further be resolved that no flag, of any nation, may be hanged on the walls of the Associate Student main lobby space.
  28. Let it be further be resolved that if a decorative item is in the Associate student lobby space and issues arise, the solution will be to remove the item if there is considerable request to do so.

Referred to:Committee on:
Vote Required: Majority
FINAL VOTE: Waiting Approval YEA: 6 NAY: 4 ABS: 2 


I have been a member of and faculty advisor to student governments.  As the former, I can imagine having gone along with something like this.  As the latter, I would have said something along the lines of:

“whatever you think you will accomplish with this action, I believe that you will find it much less effective and satisfying than you imagine and a whole lot more counterproductive and painful.  Perhaps search for  another way to make your point, recalling that the best cure to objectionable speech is usually more speech.  If you don’t, I will try to explain and defend your actions, but I will very likely fail to satisfy your critics.”

But, come on, folks — it’s college!  College students are supposed to test their assumptions, enhance their perspectives, and explore their boundaries when it comes to acting on what they have learned.  Let us agree that of the three actual actions taken here, it’s hard — not impossible, but hard — to argue with paragraph #26 without coming off like an ideologue.  It’s the bottom red stripe of type that raises both issues and hackles.  And most of us aren’t really concerned about whether the Bulgarian or Ecaudorian or Malawian or Indonesian flag is going to be barred from flying under #27 — although there may be some desire to fly the Mexican or Israeli or Palestinian or South Vietnamese or Confederate battle flags, among others — we’re concerned about flying the American flag here, amiright?  Dern tootin’!

(An aside: as an attorney who has studied legal drafting and interpretation, I’d have to remind them that the last two examples above don’t fall into the category banned by paragraph #27 — and arguably the third one doesn’t either.  Nor would the ISIS flag, with which some joker will probably try to tack up there sometime next week.  As for paragraph #28:  I see why it’s there, and it’s a valiant try, but “issues” and “considerable” just won’t satisfy the First Amendment.  And I really do half expect to see South Vietnamese flags hanging all over the place as soon as this policy is enforced.)

The very notion of declaring a room “Old Glory Free” is going to knock many critics right off of their nut.  But hey, it’s a categorical ban!  Is it fair to make an exception for the American flag?  Well, it’s justifiable, given that Irvine remains part of the United States.  But on the other hand, what would be the purpose of imposing (and that’s what it would be) display of an American flag on the student government lobby?  Nobody at UCI is unaware of what country they’re in, and most college students in student government will know that there is not actually any legal responsibility to salute the flag.  (They even have the right to burn the flag, but that point is where I, as their hypothetical advisor, start using profanity and taking about the domestic history of agents provocateurs.)

So the likeliest reason that someone would want to tack an American flag to the wall in the light of this resolution would simply be as a rebuke to the statements of principles and opinions is paragraphs #1-25 — to force at least some conformity upon them.  And that’s why, as a matter of law, the students probably do have the better of the argument involving free speech.  They get to decide how to decorate their room — and even if the reasons for their choices are bad ones, respect for their freedom demands tolerance of their choices within broad bounds that I don’t think this comes near to crossing.  Don’t worry — students can still wear American flag t-shirts and probably even carry and wave American flags in the lobby.  And the university can line every corridor and passageway leading into the student union lobby with American flags if they believe that students should be exposed to — or even bludgeoned with — their presence.  But the more the latter happens, the more their “every flag is equally unwelcome” protest makes some sense.

Looking at those first 25 paragraphs, I only have a serious problem with a few (although bear in mind that I do speak social scientific and critical theory lingo, so some of the terms that might freak others out don’t scare me so much):

#3: I believe that one can have national patriotism without nationalist chauvinism.

#8: seems schizophrenic (in the colloquial sense), first part sounding provocatively bad, but ending up good

#14: this is flat wrong.  Displaying a flag may invite these inferences, but that doesn’t mean that they’re expressed, just as a female college student in a tight low-cut blouse may invite inference without their necessarily being intended.  Boo to this one!  Communications Studies faculty, clean up on Aisle 14!

#16-17: these are tricky, depending on what “removed barriers” means.  Arguably, removing one (subjective) barrier often raises another.

#19: a confident and sweeping overstatement; whoever drafted this one will go far in academia.  Ha ha.

#24-25: these are in tension.  The authors seem to recognize the tension, although they come down on the side of respecting the exception (25) to the detriment of the rule (24).  Reasonable people can disagree with this (as, of course, can unreasonable people.)  But guess what: as the policymakers and leading citizens of tomorrow, which is what we expect to get out of the UC system, these are exactly the sorts of impossible problems that students are supposed to struggle with!  So let them do it.

I do not think that that final pair of Whereas clauses conveys the implication that display of an American flag is itself hate speech, which I’m sure is how their many and vociferous strong critics will choose to interpret it (to the extent that they think for themselves about it at all.)  This document is so stuffed with attempted nuance — achieved and failed, sundry and self-contradicting — that I don’t think that I can characterize it as expressing any single belief at all.  But there may be one exception: that forcing the American flag on people as a way to “correct” their “improper thoughts” by making them uncomfortable to dissent is wrong, anti-free speech, and, to the extent that their grievances are grounded in any legitimate facts, an affront to free academic thought and the clarity and objectivity it requires.

Students in the social sciences and humanities (when much of this language comes) are supposed to seek the same sort of objectivity that the doctor is to seek about patient care, the business student about costs and opportunities, the lawyer about the law.  It is supposed to be unsentimental — even about one’s own family, religion, culture, and nation.  The more that the inevitable attacks on these students for their insolence and ingratitude will try to squash them — based on sentiments of nationalism, pride, fear, and anger — the more that the rationale for their protest against the tendency to force orthodoxy on people, the most solid kernel of which is “don’t worry about the log in our own eye when we can talk about the mote in someone else’s eye,” will be borne out.

The first important place where these attacks on the UCI students will play out — considering online comment sections to be unimportant (sorry, everyone) — will be in the 37th District State Senate race, where tonight begins the second to last weekend before the primary.  Who will do and say what?  Don Wagner seems like as sure a bet as can be to bait the students as atheist Muslim communists (or whatever.)  My hopes aren’t high that John Moorlach will do any less, but he’s more of an iconoclast himself and it wouldn’t be shocking for him to express his personal affront while accepting that if we fund them we have to let them make their own mistakes, while feeling free to rage on.  This is an excellent opportunity for Naz Namazi to stake out a position as one who is on the one hand tied to pretty much the most relentless national chauvinist this side of the Sierras (if not the Atlantic), but also as someone who, as an immigrant woman of color and member of what has at times been a hated ethnicity, may see the students’ position as something other than the purest tincture of evil.

And then there’s the Democratic write-in, Louise Stewardson.  I don’t recall ever discussing these particular issues with her, but if she has any inclination at all that is contrary to the wholesale fiery condemnation we’ll see coming from Wagner and perhaps from his Republican rivals as well, this would be a good weekend to go to UCI, meet some people who have probably just become a whole lot more likely to vote if approached the right way, and teach people how to spell and write in the name “Stewardson.”

UPDATE 1: The resolution was vetoed on Saturday by UCI’s Executive Council.

UPDATE 2: The names and photos of the six students who supported the resolution were released in a graphic on Facebook calling on people to “make them famous” — with comments promising them economic and even physical reprisals, including deportation regardless of citizenship.  Ironically, this came on the same day that a video was released of University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members singing a song on a bus celebrating the exclusion of African-American students from their ranks with the refrain “There will never be a nigger SAE.”  So far, none of the dozens of students who were chanting has been publicly identified — and it is unlikely that their personal safety would be at risk even if they were.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)