The University of California Berkeley’s Commission on Free Speech is blaming conservative student organizations, and the speakers they hire, for causing unrest and violence on campus.
The Commission on Free Speech was created at the behest of University Chancellor Carol Christ following a tense fall 2017 semester in which the school spent $4 million on security costs. In a recent report, the Commission claimed Trump’s election legitimized “ultra-conservative rhetoric, including white supremacist views and protest marches” and thus “encouraged far-right and alt-right activists to ‘spike the football’ at Berkeley.”
The school also claims that “at least some” of the student-organized events that caused violence in 2017 were part of a “coordinated campaign to organize appearances on American campuses likely to incite a violent reaction, in order to advance a facile narrative that universities are not tolerant of conservative speech.”
The political unrest at Berkeley last year came to a head in February 2017 when left-wing students broke windows and set things on fire in protest of a planned appearance by right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos. Later that year, Berkeley rescheduled a planned appearance by conservative pundit Ann Coulter for a date in May when classes were not in session. Coulter canceled the event.
Speakers like Yiannopoulos and Coulter are motivated only by “the pursuit of wealth and fame through the instigation of anger, fear, and vengefulness in their hard-right constituency,” claims the report, and left-wing students are right to fear for their safety when such individuals are present.
Mr. Yiannopoulos, after reading the report, blasted Berkeley’s Commission as “Marxist thugs” who criticize “people they don’t listen to, books they haven’t read, and arguments they don’t understand” and noted that the report “gets Berkeley off the hook” over claims that it censors conservative speech.
The Commission’s report urges student organizations not to invite speakers with ‘provocative’ views and proposes new rules that would force students to provide 1 security volunteer for every 50 people expected to attend any “potentially disruptive” events. Students may also be required to explain why they want to host such an event and how that event is in line with the school’s values.
“If you have a very small group that’s inviting a speaker who can be predicted to impose massive disruption and cost on the campus…it seemed to us that the least we can expect of the members of that student group is to just give a public account of themselves,” explains Commission co-chair and Berkeley Philosophy Professor R. Jay Wallace. “Tell us why you think it’s important to invite this person. What value will their perspective bring to campus?”
Wallace insists these rules would apply only to a small number of events and could not be used to vet or block groups from speaking.