Controversial Oregon Campus Group is Relocated

Pacifica Forum, the once-left-wing Eugene, Ore., discussion group now notorious for its expressions of extreme-right bigotry, has been moved out of the student union at the University of Oregon following widespread protests.

University officials announced at a student government meeting Wednesday night that, for the remainder of the 2009-10 school year, the forum will not be permitted to hold its weekly meetings at the Erb Memorial Union. Instead, the forum will meet in nearby Agate Hall, which is still on campus but not part of the student union.

Posting on a Facebook group dedicated to protesting Pacifica Forum, University of Oregon sophomore Charmaine Ng had one word in response to the decision: “Hoorah!”

Pacifica Forum’s new meeting place “will provide better security options for the campus, recognize the community rather than student nature of the Pacifica Forum, and provide a larger venue when necessary,” according to an E-mail sent yesterday from university administrators to faculty and staff. However, the long-running controversy surrounding Pacifica Forum isn’t over; students plan to continue protesting the group. And Charles Martinez, the university’s vice president for institutional equity and diversity, said the university is still responding to the situation. “These are initial steps that are being taken. This is not our solution to the dilemma and the policy issues to simply move Pacifica Forum from one place on campus to another.” For instance, the university is examining its policies and practices as they relate to use of campus space by outside groups, including the longtime perk that allows retired professors — such as Orval Etter, the 94-year-old founder of Pacifica Forum — to book campus space for free.

Pacifica Forum’s ouster from Erb Memorial Union comes after two major student-led protests of the group, including a loud gathering of at least 300 students during the forum’s planned debate last Friday on the symbolism of the swastika. In addition, the student senate debated a resolution on Wednesday night calling on Pacifica Forum to leave the student union. (The resolution was ultimately changed to assert that students wanted the group off campus altogether.) Also on Wednesday, members of the Eugene Anti-Hate Task Force and student leaders met with University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere and other top administrators to express their concerns about the group. Pacifica Forum has also received national media attention, including an article this week in Inside Higher Ed, an online journal.

Michael Williams, a local resident who has monitored the group for six years, called Pacifica Forum’s removal from the student union “a real victory.” “I think the political impact is a lot more than Pacifica Forum just not meeting in the EMU anymore. It’s an opportunity to say over and over that those values do not represent us and we don’t want you as part of our community.”

Provoking the campaign against Pacifica Forum was a Dec. 11 forum meeting that showcased the National Socialist Movement, America’s largest neo-Nazi group, and included sieg-heiling by some in the audience. Students became concerned about Pacifica Forum’s use of the student union in part because the facility — supported largely though student fees — is home to student organizations for women, blacks, gays and others who want a safe place to meet.

Not everyone was pleased that Pacifica Forum would no longer be gathering there. Billy Rojas, a Pacifica Forum participant, told Hatewatch that he believes the university’s actions have been based mostly on opinions from the Anti-Hate Task Force. “They have not listened to our side of the story at all, and they reached a decision completely one-sidedly,” said Rojas, who expressed similar sentiments in an open letter this week to university president Lariviere.

Rojas said Pacifica Forum — known for bringing Holocaust deniers and other far-right extremists to campus — has been unfairly maligned. Pacifica Forum actually consists of two primary groups that are often at odds, he said: guardians of free speech and anti-Zionists. “Pacifica Forum is characterized in the media as if it is entirely anti-Zionists, and that is false,” he said.