Jacob Ellenhorn, until the end of his term Tuesday, is a USG Senator. Ellenhorn is also the president of the USC College Republicans. The USG Senate’s decision to issue him a slap on the wrist by refusing to issue the last $250 of his $2,000 stipend reveals a damaging inability to differentiate between these two roles and a dangerous precedent for free speech moving forward.
Since Program Board Executive Director Diana Jiménez pressed charges against Ellenhorn calling for his impeachment, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. However, seeing as the trial was closed to the media and no video or transcripts of the hearing have been released, by default, I remain convinced of Ellenhorn’s innocence.
The first charge, that Ellenhorn mishandled a case of female students who alleged that they faced anti-Semitic discrimination at the hands of the Women’s Student Assembly, is the hardest to judge without a full disclosure of evidence, but it is also the only charge which, if proven guilty, would prove Jiménez’s assertion that Ellenhorn failed to fulfill his duties as a senator.
The second charge, that the USC College Republicans’ hosting of Milo Yiannopoulos violated the USC Code of Ethics, is perhaps the largest overstepping of USG’s jurisdiction. Punishing Ellenhorn for voluntarily bringing controversial speakers to campus in a civil setting sets a dangerous precedent for free speech and is entirely antithetical to the challenging and diverse nature of academia. Though as a private university, USC does not have to enforce constitutional protections on free speech, I would certainly hope that we collectively decide to defend intellectual diversity, and I definitely cannot support USG speech-policing my fellow students.
Furthermore, this charge demonstrates a misunderstanding of Ellenhorn’s two entirely separate roles on campus. If Ellenhorn were not a senator and the school still found his actions in violation of the USC Code of Ethics, it seems much more likely that he would face disciplinary action from the administration, which is trained to handle these issues in an unemotional, objective manner. Instead, USG falsely conflated Ellenhorn’s role as a representative of the people with his more private role as the president of the USC College Republicans.
Finally, the Senate found Ellenhorn guilty of violating film codes from the USG Code of Ethics when he filmed USG- and Program Board-funded events and released footage to the press. While I morally support freedom of the press, and in giving footage to the press, Ellenhorn was acting as an agent of the media, I do understand that this was, perhaps, an actual violation. But again, this begs the question of how any other student would be treated in this case. If Ellenhorn were not so vocally political, would he have faced the same treatment?
Additionally, the role of a senator is to discern the allocation of student funds. Releasing footage of questionable events to the press is not an act of vilification; it enforces USG transparency.
While this case involves a number of facets that I have publicly defended, I would be defending Ellenhorn just the same if he were a Marxist extremist or a religious fanatic. Unlike certain members of USG, I believe that this is not a case of politics, but of free speech and precedent.
For all the talk about campus climate and safe spaces that our current student government likes to perpetuate, this case produced horribly personal and incendiary rhetoric. People became so wrapped up in the technicalities of Ellenhorn’s multiple roles that too many forgot that he is also a person. People writing to the Daily Trojan have accused him of being a “fraud,” “crude” and “want[ing] to be martyred.” The comments section is even worse, with commenters openly stating that they have never met him but asserting that he seems “obnoxious” and “stupid.”
Save for his feelings and $250, this trial holds little consequence for Ellenhorn. He graduates in a matter of weeks and will attend the USC Gould School of Law in the fall. But for the rest of us, the right to free speech on this campus and a student government devoid of personal vendetta are no longer precedents we can take for granted.
Tiana Lowe is a sophomore majoring in math and economics. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Tuesdays.