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UCI upholds MSU suspension

UC Irvine officials announced Friday that they have cut in half the suspension of the Muslim Student Union but declined a formal request to lift it altogether.

The suspension was reduced from an academic year to half of an academic year.

The club, though not individual students, was suspended following an investigation into the alleged disruption of a February speech given by the Israeli ambassador.

The MSU will not be allowed to book campus facilities for organizational purposes, raise funds, or set up a booth to recruit students from Sept. 23 to Dec. 31, said Tom Vasich, a UCI spokesman.

However, the MSU will be allowed to book the Interfaith Center on campus to hold Friday services, commonly called sermons in Islam, because the center is not a university facility, he said.

After the suspension is lifted, the group will be placed on probation from Jan. 3, 2011, to Dec. 9, 2012, Vasich said.

During its probation the group will be required to attend at least 10 meetings with the director of student conduct, Vasich said.

The MSU's members must collectively complete 100 hours of community service before the group can request reinstatement.

"It is to our tremendous disappointment that the university has maintained the suspension for the fall quarter…," said Reem Salahi, the attorney representing the MSU. "For us, what's problematic is that the sanctions are really unwarranted and really threaten the MSU students' Constitutional rights."

Eleven students — eight from UCI and three from UC Riverside — were arrested Feb. 8 after repeatedly disrupting Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's speech on U.S.-Israeli relations. The students, who argue that Israel's policy toward Palestinians is inhumane, were later released.

Although their case was forwarded to the Orange County district attorney's office, no charges were filed.

In May, a UCI student conduct committee recommended suspending the MSU for an academic year and placing it on probation for an additional one. The committee held that the protests were organized and orchestrated by the MSU. The committee backed up its recommendation using as evidence a set of Google group e-mails and minutes from MSU's general assembly meeting that discussed the group's intention and goals for disrupting the ambassador's speech.

The MSU maintains that the protests were not organized by the group and that the individuals who protested, though union members, acted on their own. MSU's members have said that the goal was to initially organize a protest, but plans for it later broke down.

During a telephone news conference, Hadeer Soliman, MSU's incoming vice president, called the suspension a mere collective punishment, saying it sends the wrong message at the wrong time and further alienates the students who have endured hate mail and personal attacks as a result of the suspension.

"Even more disturbing, our numerous campus allies who have worked with us on our relief efforts including the Haiti quake fundraisers, inter-faith dialogue projects and various festivities organized by the school will be deprived of an important voice, resource and friend," Soliman said. "These are not Muslim groups, but include our black, Latino, Jewish and Christian partners and allies who we work with, and study and learn from every day."

The suspension does not preclude the students from applying to form a new organization, Vasich said.

A decision on whether the students will form a new group has not yet been made, Salahi said.

Asked if the MSU will further challenge UCI's final decision by taking it to court, Salahi said all options are on the table.

"Whatever action we want to take, we want to make sure it's in the best interest of the students and the organization," she said.

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