Berkeley, Coulter and the right to free speech

Photo Courtesy Of ww2.kqed.org | Emily Kowalik ’18 discusses free speech on campuses through UC Berkeley’s recent cancellations of Anna Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos’.

 

Emily Kowalik ’18
Opinions Editor

Ann Coulter was scheduled to give a speech at the University of California at Berkeley on April 27. Fearing backlash, the school administration cancelled the event, even though the speech was being hosted by two student groups – the Young Republicans and the Young America Foundation.

The school officials later bowed to critics decrying the silence of free speech and offered to reschedule the event, but they chose the afternoon of May 2, knowing that the entire school would be in the midst of finals then. The Young Republicans also had to cancel an earlier event featuring right-wing speaker David Horowitz when campus officials insisted on scheduling it for a 1 p.m. time slot at the Clark Kerr campus, 10 blocks away. The group told campus officials that the event wasn’t worth the expense of the speaker’s fee because too few students could show up at that time and place.

I am not a fan of Ann Coulter, but I support her right to speak on campus.

Long known as a campus favorable to left-wing activism, Berkeley has now become a place where right-winger speakers  are viewed by the administration with misgiving. In February, college officials cancelled a talk by Breitbart News’ Milo Yiannopoulos when protesters threw stones and firebombs and smashed windows.

But the university acknowledged that this destruction did not spring from students, but from outsiders intolerant of unwanted opinions. In fact, even before the damage, the university signaled its feelings about the event.  After Yiannopoulos was invited, the administration issued a stinging statement condemning his views but defending his right to speak on campus, saying it supported “the principle of tolerance, even when it means we tolerate that which may appear to us as intolerant.” Campus administrators even warned students that Yiannopoulos might use his talk to make immigrant students “human targets to serve a political agenda.”

The university is now once again bowing to the threats of self-styled anarchists bent on silencing the views of right- wing speakers.

Ms. Coulter’s supporters argue that this is just another example of Berkeley demonstrating its intolerance of any opinion other than the left-wing liberal views it is famous for.

The university counters that the campus has become a battleground for groups wanting to express their opinions with rocks and fists.

Former Berkeley students involved in the group, “ By any Means Necessary” announced it would not tolerate Ms. Coulter on campus, stating “we will not tolerate anti-immigrant bigoty or bigotry of any kind- which is the only thing she is here to do.”

Ms. Coulter’s visit is a crucial second test of whether or not UC Berkeley really is the home of the Free Speech Movement. Campus officials claim the “university remains committed to the constitutional guarantee of free speech. But because it’s on campus, the university can’t abdicate its responsibility for safety.” Still, it appears that the effects of these concerns are being born unevenly.

The Berkeley College Republicans announced yesterday that they intend to bring legal action against the university, arguing that the university cannot impose discriminatory rules on differing viewpoints while protecting the liberal consensus. The group stated that “there is a first amendment right of student groups to have equal access to university facilities,” which is something that we would all agree with, no matter what our political beliefs.

Leave a Comment