Last week the student group responsible for the flubbed “Free Speech Week” asked the US Department of Justice to investigate UC Berkeley’s administration for what they claim is retaliatory behavior. The group’s lawyer alleges in a complaint that Chancellor Christ threatened conservative students with a criminal investigation based on comments she made in reference to hateful messages that appeared in chalk and on posters ahead of the planned event. Berkeley Patriot, the student organization, interpreted Christ’s insistence that the campus would investigate the messaging as a veiled threat at conservative students broadly. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Campus spokesman Dan Mogulof called the allegations ‘utterly unfounded’ and said the complaint ‘seems like a desperate attempt to avoid any responsibility for the collapse of the events.'” In an op-ed, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of Berkeley’s law school, praised Christ’s handling of the “Free Speech Week” controversy. In the op-ed, Chemerinsky wrote:
Be clear, if Chancellor Christ were to prevent particular speakers because of their offensive message, she would get sued. The speakers would win and get an injunction to allow them to speak. The campus would have to pay their attorney fees and perhaps money damages as well. The excluded speakers would be victims and martyrs. And nothing would be gained because they would get to speak anyway.
Overall, media coverage of Berkeley and debates about free speech on campus were quieted as attention once again turned to gun control following the tragedy in Las Vegas. Nonetheless, an event at the College of William & Mary sparked debate. At an event focused on the First Amendment, a member of the ACLU’s Virginia arm was prevented from speaking by Black Lives Matter protestors who were critical of the organization for its commitment to defending the First Amendment rights of white supremacists. An op-ed in the New York Times struck a sympathetic but critical tone, noting, “someone should tell (the student protestors) that if the principle of free speech is curtailed, those with the least power are most likely to feel the chill.”
“Free Speech Week” Fallout
10/4 – Conservative Berkeley students ask US Justice Department to launch investigation (SFChronicle): The article notes that Berkeley Patriot claims they cancelled the event due to the perceived threat of an investigation.
You can read the complaint here.
10/3 – Op-Ed: Why UC Berkeley was right not to ban Milo, and other lessons from Free Speech Week (SacBee): Chemerinsky also dismissed Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ assertion that free speech is imperiled on campus, saying such events as “Free Speech Week” are intentional spectacles.
10/3 – Op-Ed: Millions for security, cuts to critical theory program underscore need for transparency (DailyCal): Two doctoral students bemoan cuts to the Program in Critical Theory and the obscure decision-making that led to the downsizing. The authors contrast the decision with the public affirmation the university made to fund security for the recent string of right-wing appearances.
9/20 – UC system will chip in at least $300,000 to help Berkeley pay security costs for controversial speakers (LATimes): In a news item this blog originally missed, the UC system chipped in $300,000 to help Berkeley pay its recent security bill.
10/5 – Antifa stalking UC Berkeley’s conservative students, group says (FoxNews): Berkeley College Republican members have had their locations Tweeted by Antifa-affiliated accounts.
10/6 – Op-Ed: The Worst Time for the Left to Give Up on Free Speech (NYT): The author contends, “When disputes about free speech are adjudicated not according to broad principles but according to who has power, the left will mostly lose.”
10/5 – ACLU Speaker Shouted Down at William & Mary (IHE): Students reportedly chanted “ACLU, you protect Hitler, too.”