The Day After: Calm protests, a young scholar arrested

A massive police presence in Berkeley encountered two opposing but peaceful protest camps Thursday. Following the cancellation of a speech by Ann Coulter, authorities feared a repeat of the violent clashes between right- and left-wing protestors that have plagued downtown Berkeley in recent weeks. One of the points of contention is who, exactly, cancelled the appearance.

Student groups invited Coulter to speak on Thursday, but the university asked for Coulter to come at another date so that student safety could be protected. Coulter refused, and called the rescheduling an assault on free speech. A student Republican group who helped invite Coulter also took up this framing. The university emphasized its embrace of free speech while at the same time noting it’s deep consideration for student safety.

SF Gate’s take on the protests can be read here: “Calm prevails in Berkeley after cops gear up in wake of Coulter cancellation”

Even though Coulter said she would not appear Thursday despite earlier indicating she would speak on Sproul Plaza, opposing protestors stated their intent to appear, with threats of violence circulated online. Those threats went unfulfilled, though the protest by the right-wing activists included Islamophobic and racist rhetoric.

Despite the peaceful protests, police did make arrests. One Cal student, Jorge-David Mancillas, was arrested for allegedly possessing a weapon. Mancillas is a stand-out student on campus, according to the Daily Cal, and was accepted into numerous prestigious PhD programs in sociology. Students protested his arrest Thursday afternoon claiming he was racially profiled.

 

2:30pm Protest Update

A multi-agency police response in Berkeley has stood watch over largely peaceful protestors, according to media reports. Right-wing protestors have mostly gathered at Civic Center Park, across from Berkeley high. Left-wing protestors have stuck to campus, according to reports, where a large police presence is visible.

According to the Daily Cal, two arrests were made by 1 pm. The student newspaper reports:

As of 1 p.m., UCPD had made two protest-related arrests. One individual was arrested on suspicion of carrying a knife on campus, while the other was arrested and charged with wearing a mask and providing false identification to a police officer.

City and university administrators had feared a violent clash even after Ann Coulter announced she would not speak on campus. In recent weeks, violent clashes between those on the far extremes of the political spectrum erupted in downtown Berkeley. In February, a riot on campus resulted in the cancellation of a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, also disrupting a mass of students who had protested peacefully.

Based on coverage from the Daily Cal’s twitter feed (a good source of on-going coverage), some right-wing protestor have framed their protest as one in favor of free speech and dialogue while other right-wing protestors have made violent threats and outlandish claims directed at former President Barack Obama.

For more coverage, see SF Gate.

4/26/17 Coulter Update

Ann Coulter announced she will not speak on campus tomorrow after two conservative groups which had backed her appearance withdrew their support. Coulter’s appearance seemed certain to induce a violent clash between those on the far extremes of the political spectrum given bloody confrontations in downtown Berkeley in recent weeks and the riot which resulted in the cancellation of a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos in February.

Coulter and conservative groups have repeatedly tried to frame the controversy as an assault on free speech, while Berkeley officials have emphasized their willingness to have Coulter speak, but only under conditions where student safety could be ensured. Coulter refused the university’s invitation to speak on another date.

According to the New York Times:

Late on Tuesday, the conservative group that was helping Ms. Coulter in her legal efforts to force Berkeley to host her, Young America’s Foundation, said it could no longer participate. ‘Young America’s Foundation will not jeopardize the safety of its staff or students,’ the group said.

The article notes that the Berkeley College Republicans, which initially invited Coulter to campus along with a nonpartisan student group, also withdrew its support. Both the College Republicans and Young America’s Foundation have sued the university, claiming it treats left- and right-wing speakers differently.

Before news broke of Coulter’s decision to cancel her appearance, Chancellor Dirks sent an email to the campus community. In the message, he stressed the campus’s commitment to free speech and safety, and emphasized how the university’s desire to reschedule Coulter’s appearance was an effort to balance the competing commitments.

You can read the full letter below:

To the Members of the Berkeley Campus Community,

As I write this, I am aware of the uncertainty surrounding Ann Coulter’s stated intention to come to campus tomorrow afternoon.  We will be sending out a separate message later today with updated information about safety arrangements, as well as our hopes and expectations regarding how members of our campus community should conduct themselves.  For now, I want to share my thoughts about all that has led up to the current situation in which we find ourselves.

This University has two non-negotiable commitments, one to Free Speech, the other to the safety of our campus community members, their guests, and the public. In that context, we cannot ignore or deny what is a new reality.  Groups and individuals from the extreme ends of the political spectrum have made clear their readiness and intention to utilize violent tactics in support or in protest of certain speakers at UC Berkeley. In early February, a speaker’s presence on campus ignited violent conflict and significant damage to campus property. In March, political violence erupted on the streets of Berkeley.  In April opposing groups again violently clashed on the edge of our campus. While some seem inclined to use these events and circumstances to draw attention to themselves, we remain focused on the needs, rights, and interests of our students and our community. We cannot wish away or pretend that these threats do not exist.

The strategies necessary to address these evolving threats are also evolving, but the simplistic view of some – that our police department can simply step in and stop violent confrontations whenever they occur – ignores reality.  Protecting public safety in these circumstances requires a multifaceted approach.  This approach must take into account the use of “time, place, and manner” guidelines, devised according to the specific threats presented.  Because threats or strategic concerns may differ, so must our approach.  In all cases, however, we only seek to ensure the successful staging of free speech rights; we make no effort to control or restrict the content of expression, regardless of differing political views.

This is a University, not a battlefield. We must make every effort to hold events at a time and location that maximizes the chances that First Amendment rights can be successfully exercised and that community members can be protected. While our commitment to freedom of speech and expression remains absolute, we have an obligation to heed our police department’s assessment of how best to hold safe and successful events.

In relation to the invitation made by a student group for Ann Coulter to speak at Berkeley this week, we have therefore to take seriously the intelligence UCPD has regarding threats of violence that could endanger our students, our community, and perhaps even Ms Coulter herself. It is specific, significant, and real.  Yet, despite those threats we have, and will remain ready, to welcome her to campus, and assume the risks, challenges, and expenses that will attend her visit.  That is demanded by our commitment to Free Speech.  What we will not do is allow our students, other members of the campus community, and the public to be needlessly endangered by permitting an event to be held in a venue that our police force does not believe to be protectable.  If UCPD believes there is a significant security threat attendant to a particular event, we cannot allow it to be held in a venue with a limited number of exits; in a hall that cannot be cordoned off; in an auditorium with floor to ceiling glass; in any space that does not meet basic safety criteria established by UCPD.  This is the sole reason we could not accommodate Ms. Coulter on April 27th, and the very reason we offered her alternative dates in early May and September, when venues that satisfy safety requirements are available.

Contrary to some press reports and circulating narratives, the UC Berkeley administration did not cancel the Coulter event and has never prohibited Ms. Coulter from coming on campus.  Instead, we received a request to provide a venue on one single day, chosen unilaterally by a student group without any prior consultation with campus administration or law enforcement.  After substantial evaluation and planning by our law enforcement professionals, we were forced to inform the group that, in light of specific and serious security threats that UCPD’s intelligence had identified, there was no campus venue available at a time on that date where the event could be held safely and without disruption.  We offered an alternative date for the event (which was rejected) and offered to work with the group to find dates in the future when the event could occur. Throughout this process our effort has been to support our students’ desire to hold their event safely and successfully. 

Sadly and unfortunately, concern for student safety seems to be in short supply in certain quarters. We believe that once law enforcement professionals determine there are security risks attendant to a particular event, speakers need to focus on what they actually want to achieve. If it is to speak to a large audience, to make a case for their positions, to engage students in discourse, we stand ready to make that work on any date when a protectable venue is available. If, on the other hand, the objective is stir up conflict and violence without regard for the safety, rights, and interests of others in order to advance personal interests we cannot abandon our commitment to the safety of our community members.

We will work cooperatively with members of our campus community who would sponsor events to ensure that those events can occur and that the campus can actually benefit from the dialogue their invited speakers might generate. To this end, we are working to clarify our policies and practices so that all know what is expected and how sponsors can best engage us to facilitate the success of their planned events. We trust that cooperation and good will among the members of our own community can help us jointly defend our campus against the threats to both speech and safety currently being posed by outside groups.

Sincerely,

Nick Dirks
Chancellor

 

 

Media Coverage 04/24/17

Ann Coulter’s insistence on speaking in the Berkeley area on Thursday, April 27 has raised fears of another violent political clash on UC Berkeley’s campus. The conservative commentator was invited to speak on campus by a student Republican group, which failed to inform the administration of their invitation. After campus leaders got wind of the invite, they insisted the organization and Coulter agree to a number of conditions aimed at preventing a repeat of the riot which stopped Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus. Eventually, the administration cancelled the April 27 event, offering to host the speaker at a later date.

The cancellation was criticized by the student group and across right wing media outlets, which repeatedly questioned the campus’s commitment to free speech. Prof. Robert Reich, who has a following on the left, also waded into the fray, saying Coulter should be allowed to speak. The university insisted Coulter was being allowed to speak, but that moving the date would allow her to do so safely. Coulter rejected the later date, saying it would not work for her schedule and she had committed to April 27. Since the Yiannopoulos event, the city of Berkeley has been the scene of violent clashes between supporters of President Donald Trump and those opposed to the administration, many of whom identify as Antifa, or anti-fascists. Some media reports have noted there is an effort to find a nearby off-campus venue for Coulter to use on April 27. The student Republican group has stated it may sue the university over the incident. On the lighter side, the controversy was lampooned by the satirical website The Onion, which ran the headline, “Berkeley Campus On Lockdown After Loose Pages From ‘Wall Street Journal’ Found On Park Bench.”

In other news, an audit by the state questioned the management of the California State University system. The report found that between fiscal years 2007-08 and 2015-16, the number of managers grew by 15 percent while the number of faculty rose by only 7 percent. It also raises questions about how managers are evaluated and compensated. UC’s finances are also in the news, as a digital overhaul of UC’s payroll and personnel system entitled UCPath has seen four years of delays and costs triple.

News Articles

4/21 – How Berkeley has become the far left’s and far right’s battleground (WaPo): The article notes how UC Berkeley and the City of Berkeley have become sites for frequent clashes between activists on both ends of the political spectrum, though its discussion of the far left conflates distinct movements. It notes targeting campuses is often a successful strategy for the right:

The showdowns are, for many on the far right, part of a successful strategy: schedule a controversial event on campus or in town, wait for the liberal outrage and threats of violence to grow, and when the event is canceled, point out the hypocrisy and oppression against free speech.

4/21 – Berkeley Is Being Tested on 2 Fronts: Free Speech and Safety (NYT): The article frames the campus’s weighing of free speech, violence and its reputation.

4/20 – How Berkeley became a hotbed of violence in the Trump era (Politico): Politico takes a deep look at the recent eruptions in Berkeley and what’s motivating protestors.

4/20 – Satire: Berkeley Campus On Lockdown After Loose Pages From ‘Wall Street Journal’ Found On Park Bench (TheOnion): The satirical website wrote:

Advising students to remain in their dormitories and classrooms until the situation was resolved, the University of California, Berkeley declared a campuswide lockdown Thursday after several loose pages from The Wall Street Journal were found on a park bench outside a school building. “At 11:15 this morning, several pages from two separate sections of today’s Wall Street Journal were discovered spread across a bench outside of Eshleman Hall in Lower Sproul Plaza,” read the urgent alert sent to all students and faculty, emphasizing that while campus security and local police had safely disposed of the pages, there was no way of knowing if others were strewn elsewhere on university grounds. “As of now, the perpetrator remains at large, so it is vital that you stay where you are until the all-clear is given. In the meantime, notify police immediately if you have any additional information at all regarding this incident.” At press time, a black-clad group of 50 students were throwing bottles at the bench while chanting, “No Nazis, No KKK, No Fascist U.S.A!”

4/20 – Cal State hires too many managers, needs better budget oversight, state audit finds (LATimes): The article notes Cal Poly was singled out as a particularly bad apple. According to the article, the campus “increased pay for at least 70 management personnel in 2016 who either had outdated performance evaluations or no evaluations on file.”

You can read the audit here.

4/17 – Cost triples, delays mount for UC computer system upgrade (SacBee): A total of $327 million has been spent on the project so far, which is only operational at UC’s system headquarters.

 

Media Coverage 4/16/17

The UC system settled lawsuits with Sujit Choudhry, former dean of UC Berkeley’s law school, and Tyann Sorrell, a former assistant to Choudhry who accused him of sexual harassment. The deals were reached in March but not announced until Friday. As part of the settlements, Choudhry, who resigned as dean in 2016 amidst the scandal, will pay $50,000 to Sorrell’s lawyers and an additional $50,000 to a charity Sorrell will choose. Choudhry will be on an unpaid sabbatical through May 2018, retaining travel and research benefits. After that point, he will resign from the university. According to the Associated Press, “(UC) also will withdraw all disciplinary complaints against him, and will not be able to say he acted with sexual intent or posed a risk to faculty, students or staff.” In a comment to the AP, Sorrell’s attorney said, “This is just one more example of UC refusing to take sexual harassment seriously and once again offering a soft landing even after a finding of harassment.” The settlement ends a series of lawsuits and investigations that began after Choudhry began allegedly harassing Sorrell in 2014. After Sorrell complained that Choudhry kissed and hugged her, the university reportedly substantiated the claims and issued a temporary 10 percent pay cut to Choudhry. Sorrell subsequently sued the university, arguing that the punishment was too light. Choudhry also sued the university, in part claiming the school had discriminated against him.

In related news, the university has narrowed its search for Choudhry’s successor to three candidates: Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine’s law school; Laura Gómez, a law professor and interim dean of UCLA’s College Division of Social Sciences; and Kimberly Yuracko, a law professor at Northwestern University. Elsewhere, UC has appealed a U.S. patent ruling concerning CRISPR. If the ruling stands, UC would likely share licensing rights to the gene-editing technology with the Broad Institute.

4/15 – Harassment accuser condemns UC Berkeley deal (AP): The article quotes Sorrell stating, “This deal insults all who suffer harassment at the hands of those with power and privilege.”

4/12 – Search committee for new Berkeley Law dean narrows in on 3 candidates (DailyCal): In contrast to UC Berkeley’s recently completed search for its next chancellor, the three law dean finalists were invited to public events.
4/13 – University of California files appeal over CRISPR patents (Reuters): The wire service report offers an overview of the CRISPR legal saga.
4/13 – Why the University of California Is Appealing the CRISPR Patent Decision (Atlantic): The Atlantic highlights the high financial stakes of the appeal.
Also see UC Berkeley’s statement

Media Coverage 4/10/17

According to a BuzzFeed report, UC Berkeley knew of at least three sexual misconduct complaints against John Searle, professor emeritus of philosophy, before he was sued last month by a 24-year-old woman. The suit alleges the woman was fired from a post as Searle’s research assistant after refusing his advances. BuzzFeed’s report claims that in 2014 Searle told an undergraduate he could not employ her in a research position because she was married and therefore would not be committed to the job. In 2013, Searle allegedly tried to kiss a foreign exchange student in his office. In 2004, a graduate student reported to the chair of the philosophy department that Searle had tried to play footsie with her under a table at an event for prospective students. After it appeared the university took little action in response, the graduate student transferred to another school. BuzzFeed reports that the three newly uncovered incidents were reviewed by UC Berkeley’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination. In a statement made through his attorney, Searle has denied the claims advanced in the March lawsuit, stating that he “questions the plaintiff’s motives for bringing her complaint.” The statement also notes that UC Berkeley treated any past allegations “appropriately” and that the footsie incident was “rejected by the university” after an investigation. UC Berkeley declined to comment to BuzzFeed due to confidentially concerns, but said a “rigorous investigation” into the claims related to the March lawsuit and past allegations are on-going. In other news, University of California President Janet Napolitano penned an op-ed championing the system’s research ties with Mexico, an initiative she says President Donald Trump has complicated. In another op-ed, UC Berkeley’s next chancellor, Carol Christ, and two coauthors criticized an attack by the Hungarian prime minister on the Central European University. Christ and her coauthors are trustees on the university’s board.

4/7 – UC Berkeley Was Warned About Its Star Professor Years Before Sexual Harassment Lawsuit (BuzzFeed): The article also notes that Searle is accused of inappropriate behavior in large undergraduate classes and of impersonating an offensive accent.

4/4 – Op-Ed: Hungary’s xenophobic attack on Central European University is a threat to freedom everywhere (WaPo): The authors have a harsh take on the PM’s move to limit the immigration of international students and faculty:

Let’s not sugarcoat this attempt at purging CEU. This is nothing less than an attack rooted in a xenophobic nationalism and an anti-intellectual mistrust of the conduct of free inquiry, research and teaching. The crackdown on CEU is part of Orban’s (the prime minister) larger crackdown on nongovernmental organizations and freedom of expression. In October, Hungary’s biggest opposition newspaper, which was critical of Orban, was shut down. The government has also pledged to tighten its grip on foreign-backed NGOs.

4/7 – Op-Ed: UC initiative with Mexico shows advantages of cooperation over confrontation (SacBee): Napolitano highlighted some outcomes from UC’s program in Mexico:

The initiative is now showing results, and these successes have come at a propitious time. Among the outcomes announced during this trip were a $10 million grant from Mexico’s Energy Ministry for energy efficiency projects with UC researchers, gains in combating diabetes on both sides of the border, and new student internships. A reception at UC’s Casa de California brought together more than 200 UC alumni living in Mexico who were eager to support the UC-Mexico partnership.

4/6 – UC president walks downtown Merced, future site of administrative center (MercedSunStar): A new $45 million UC Merced building in downtown Merced is intended to help revitalize the town. The university’s main campus is set off away from the Central Valley city.

4/6 – UC lead Napolitano brings can-do message to Johansen High (ModBee): Napolitano’s appearance was part of a program intended to increase the diversity and number of students applying to the UC system.

 

Media Coverage 04/02/17

A ruling on March 23 by the European Patent Office is good news for Berkeley. According to Science, the office ruled in Berkeley’s favor concerning a fight over licensing rights to the technology popularly known as CRISPR, announcing its intent to grant Berkeley a patent covering all of the technology’s applications. In February, the US Patent and Trademark Office ruled that Berkeley would have to share a patent for the gene-editing technology with the MIT and Harvard-affiliated Broad Institute. A Berkeley scientist, Jennifer Doudna, and her collaborator were the first to use the technology to edit the genes of prokaryotic cells. Shortly after, a scientist at the Broad Institute used the technology on eukaryotic cells, the type of cells found in animals and plants. Berkeley had asked the US Patent and Trademark Office to deny the Broad Institute’s application for a patent, but the office ruled the Broad application’s more narrow definition, which only covers the use of the technology in eukaryotic cells, could stand. The Berkeley application, which is still under review in the US, will apply to CRISPR technology more widely. As a result, any revenue from medical applications in the US, which is speculated to be in the billions of dollars, would likely be shared between the two patent holders. Science reports the Broad Institute is likely to challenge the European ruling, which would cover the technology’s use in about 40 countries, while Berkeley is also likely to continue fighting the US ruling.

In other news, the UC system saw its first drop in applications from international students in 12 years, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The article argues that the one percent drop from last year is driven by the election of President Donald Trump, noting that the decrease in applications from Mexico and nations with large Muslim populations were 30 and 10 percent, respectively. In The Atlantic, a right-leaning writer wrote a lengthy piece criticizing UC for spending $1 million on its investigation into misconduct by former UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi. Also, a planned visit to Berkeley by Ann Coulter has raised fears of violent protests. The event is co-sponsored by an organization that promotes discussion across the political spectrum.

3/27 – Europe says University of California deserves broad patent for CRISPR (Science): The article quotes a patent expert who advocates for the two sides to work out a deal. According to the article:

Cook-Deegan (from Arizona State) long has advocated that the public would benefit most if UC and the Broad reached a peace treaty and agreed to share, through what’s known as a cross-license agreement, in the CRISPR spoils. The new decision, he says, “further emphasizes the need for a cross-licensing deal, so folks can have some sense of what they can do and sell without getting sued, and from whom they need to get licenses.”

You can read UC Berkeley’s press release on the matter here. To brush up on the February ruling, click here for coverage from the LA Times.

4/1 – UC sees 1st drop in international applicants in more than decade (SF Chronicle): The article notes there is a precedent for US foreign policy impacting international applications:

The last time undergraduates from around the world shied away from UC, the United States had just led a multinational invasion of Iraq in 2003. The war coincided with a plunge in international interest in UC campuses and other American universities in 2004 and 2005 that even post-9/11 security crackdowns had failed to achieve.

3/31 – Commentary: Spending $1 Million to Get Rid of a Single Bureaucrat (The Atlantic): The right-leaning author recounts the Katehi story and criticizes UC for spending $1 million on its investigation.

3/29 – Planned Ann Coulter Visit To UC Berkeley Has Organizers Fearing Another Backlash (CBS): The article notes concerns that the event will result in protests similar to those which prevented right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus.

Curious how the right-wing media is covering the Coulter news? Here’s a link to Breitbart’s take, which focuses on the violence which prevented Yiannopoulos (a former Breitbart editor) from speaking. Surprisingly, the article, much like UC Berkeley, seems to blame the violence not on students but outsider groups. The article also notes UC Berkeley’s history in the Free Speech Movement.