Media Coverage 10/9/17

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.

Free Speech

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.”

 

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Media Coverage 10/2/17

While “Free Speech Week” was called off, a number of small rallies drew protestors from opposite sides of the political spectrum to Sproul Plaza last week. A large police presence, reserved in anticipation of “Free Speech Week,” was visible throughout campus and a handful of arrests were made following scuffles. However, the national media paid little attention to events on campus after the much-hyped parade of high profile conservative speakers was cancelled, instead shifting their attention to consider free speech in the context of NFL protests.

In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Chancellor Christ contrasted the appearance by Ben Shapiro, who was invited by the Berkeley College Republicans, with “Free Speech Week,” which was driven by a small and largely inactive student group, Berkeley Patriot. Christ called the latter event a “fiction” meant to provide a useful narrative for the alt-right, while the former event realized its stated purpose, namely providing an opportunity for a conservative thinker to share his views on campus. Christ’s further said she suspects Berkeley Patriot never intended for their event to occur, a view backed up by email records obtained by the San Jose Mercury News. In an email exchange with campus leaders, one of the invited right wing speakers, Lucian Wintrich, wrote, “It was known that they didn’t intend to actually go through with it last week, and completely decided on Wednesday.”

The big picture emphasis on free speech in the national media was driven in part by a speech Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave at Georgetown University. Sessions declared, “A national recommitment to free speech on campus and to ensuring First Amendment rights is long overdue.” While the right attacked campuses for supposedly not embracing free speech, a number of commentators called out the apparent hypocrisy of conservative commentators, who during the week were critical of high-profile protests by NFL players. A number of pieces exploring the issue of free speech are included in this week’s news summary on the Our University blog. While the featured writers dismiss the speech of Milo and his coterie as hollow grandstanding, a number are critical of the reception mainstream conservative thinkers receive from student activists.

The Week That Wasn’t

9/26 – Berkeley’s Leader Saw Hints That ‘Free Speech Week’ Was a Stunt. Here’s Why She Planned for It Anyway (Chronicle): Christ emphasized how the campus went of its way to help the group behind “Free Speech Week,” though she now doubts the group ever intended to hold the event:

“We took extraordinary measures to try and accommodate them even though they missed all these deadlines. And we have spent extraordinary resources, not just in money for security, but in people’s time, and the amount of administrative attention this has received.”

9/25 – UC Berkeley’s ‘Free Speech Week’ officially canceled, appeared to be set-up from the start (SJMN): A lawyer for Berkeley Patriot denies Wintrich’s account, saying the group planned to go ahead with “Free Speech Week.”

9/25 – And the point of all this was what exactly? (SFGate): Sociologist David Meyer who studies social movements said Milo’s appearance, albeit brief, was a victory for the provocateur.

9/28 – Milo, Ann Coulter and the “Free Speech Week” Add Up to the Right’s Best Troll Yet (Wired): The article outlines the strategy behind the alt-right’s focus on Berkeley. Namely, appearing on a campus famed for its commitment to free speech forces the university to shell out large sums of money for security, which often prevents violence, but nonetheless provides the right with the optics they crave.

9/26 – Column: The Milo Yiannopoulos shtick shows the disconnect between Berkeley students and the meaning of free speech (LATimes): The article suggests the climate on campus is not conducive to views that go against the grain. The writer notes the difference between the abhorrent rhetoric of the far right and the main stream right, asking if the latter is welcome.

9/26 – Scuffles break out during far-right march in Berkeley; at least 3 arrested (LATimes): The article describes a campus protest by the right wing group Patriot Prayer and scuffles with counter protestors.

9/26 – Confrontations Result in Arrests During Patriot Prayer March in Berkeley (NBC/BayArea): Three were arrested at the Patriot Prayer rally.

9/27 – Berkeley: Suspicious package defuses latest free speech protests (SJMN): A rally that pitted left and right wing protestors against each other was dispersed by police due to a suspicious package.

9/27 – Antifa leader, teacher Yvonne Felarca arrested at ’empathy tent’ Berkeley brawl (FoxNews): The conservative news outlet highlights the arrest of a local Antifa leader who has become a symbol of the movement within right-wing media channels.

Free Speech in Focus

9/26 – Sessions’ Justice Dept. Will Weigh In on Free-Speech Cases. What Should Campuses Expect? (Chronicle): Sessions announced the Justice Department plans to “enforce federal law, defend free speech, and protect students’ free expression from whatever end of the political spectrum it may come.” However, a number of the institutions the Justice Department has singled out maybe surprising, including Boise State, Clemson and Georgia Gwinnett College. The Justice Department last week filed a statement of interest regarding a case against Georgia Gwinnett last week.

9/26 – Sessions Calls for ‘Recommitment’ to Free Speech on Campus, Diving Into Debate (NYT): You can read Sessions’ prepared remarks in full here.

10/1 – Flip-Flopping on Free Speech (NewYorker): Historian Jill Lepore writes “An unwillingness to engage with conservative thought, an aversion to debate, and a weakened commitment to free speech are among the failures of the left.” While she rejects the claim made by those on the right that conservatives are interested in promoting free speech, she is quite critical of left’s drift away from the lessons of Mario Savio and Harry Edwards.

9/28 – Why We Must Still Defend Free Speech (NYRB): The ACLU’s national legal director argues that while free speech is difficult in such an unequal society, a commitment to its defense is our best bet for preserving democratic pluralism, defending the most marginalized and avoiding violence.

9/26 – A Nation of Snowflakes (Atlantic): The columnist probes the role of the Trump-era state in silencing free, writing, “The boundaries of free speech that elements of the conservative movement mean to set delineate a world in which the state protects the right to discriminate against religious, ethnic, sexual, and gender minorities, and those who choose to protest such treatment can be easily marginalized with public opprobrium or state violence if necessary.”

9/26 – Why Banning Speakers Is Absolutely Wrong (Academe): The author takes a very critical view of a letter Berkeley faculty, students and staff signed calling for a boycott during “Free Speech Week.” The author, TK, writes, “Calling for a campus boycott with the goal of banning certain events and certain speech is an attempt at repression.” He also dismisses claims that “Free Speech Week” posed a threat to students covered by DACA.

9/27 – Free Speech Then and Now: The FSM and the Alt-Right on Campus (Academe): The author, a professor of English, explores how speech on campus has changed under neoliberalism and the embrace of corporate-style techniques for controlling behavior.

Media Coverage 9/25/17

“Free Speech Week” is off. Following a series of conflicting media reports, it emerged that the student organization that had hastily invited a parade of alt-right speakers to campus for a week-long event had backed out. After hosting a video-press conference on Saturday, event headliner Milo Yiannopoulos appeared on campus Sunday without the backing of any student organization. The university spent an estimated $800,000 to muster a police force for the event, which was largely peaceful despite a large contingent of protesters and a smaller but sizable coterie of right-wing activists. During his brief speech, Yiannopoulos made a sex joke and invited his supporters to pray. After interacting with supporters for about 15 minutes, he was whisked away in a GMC Yukon parked outside Barrows Hall. The student organization behind “Free Speech Week” has reportedly filed a civil rights complaint against UC Berkeley for denying their First Amendment rights. The campus was posed to spend millions on security to ensure the week could occur safely.

Turn-of-the-screw stories detailing the on-again-off-again drama of “Free Speech Week” overshadowed two incidents in which individual members of the Berkeley community were harassed by “Free Speech Week” participants. In one incident, posters from the David Horowitz Freedom Center accused community members of supporting terrorism. In another incident, Yiannopoulos posted information online about two students who had been critical of Free Speech Week.

While “Free Speech Week” monopolized media attention, two stories concerning UC’s financial situation made the news. According to the Daily Cal, the administration is considering cutting funding for Berkeley Connect, a program that unites graduate student mentors with undergraduates. The program not only helps undergrads navigate Cal, but also provides funding to graduate students. A Daily Cal editorial urged the administration to protect the program.

Meanwhile, the LA Times reported that over 5,400 UC retirees take in annual pensions worth over $100,000. As the article notes, “Someone without a pension would need savings between $2 million and $3 million to guarantee a similar income in retirement.” According to the paper, “the number of UC retirees collecting six-figure pensions has increased 60% since 2012.”

Free Speech Sunday

9/21 – UC Berkeley students harassed after Milo Yiannopoulos publicly identifies them (DailyCal): Yiannopoulos published photographs of the two students on social media accounts.

9/21 – Posters alleging UC Berkeley community members are ‘terrorist supporters’ appear on campus (DailyCal): Chancellor Christ condemned the posters in a campus-wide email.

9/24 – Milo Yiannopoulos’ brief visit was ‘most expensive photo op’ in Cal history (SFGate): The article offers a ticker-style update of the day’s events.

9/24 – Milo Yiannopoulos’ 15 minutes in Berkeley cost university $800,000 (SJMN): Yiannopoulos argues the campus prevented his supporters from making it to his speech.

9/23 – Yiannopoulos pledges to speak on UC Berkeley campus Sunday, welcome or not (SFChronicle): In a video conference on Saturday, Yiannopoulos said:

We are going to be hosting an event come hell or high water. We will be expressing our constitutional rights to free speech, free expression, on Sproul Plaza, the home of the Free Speech Movement, tomorrow as planned, with or without student help, with or without the cooperation of UC Berkeley itself. The administration has done everything in its power to crush its own students’ aspirations. UC Berkeley has a deservedly poor reputation for free speech.

9/22 – Milo Yiannopoulos’ ‘Free Speech Week’ At Berkeley Falls Apart, Organizers Say (NPR): The article highlights the confusion around what led to the downfall of Free Speech Week.

9/24 – In Sad, Sad Press Conference, Milo Says ‘Free Speech Week’ Is Now Just One Measly Rally (HuffPo): Yiannopoulos appeared beside an anti-Islamic activist and a noted conspiracy theorist and “mens’ rights” activist.

9/22 – Berkeley Patriot files civil rights complaint against UC Berkeley (DailyCal): The complaint is included as a PDF in the story.

9/22 – Let Right-Wing Speakers Come to Berkeley? Faculty Is Divided (NYT): The article highlights a debate among faculty members over how the campus should respond to the incursions of extreme right-wing speakers.

9/23 – Organizers call off far-right festival at UC Berkeley; some speakers plan rally on campus on Sunday (LATimes): The article notes that the 11 members of Berkeley Patriot were divided over whether to cancel the event. The article also cites information that indicates the event was cancelled earlier than acknowledged, though Yiannopoulos denies the claim.

9/22 – Student Organizers Cancel ‘Free Speech Week’ Events at UC Berkeley (KQED): KQED was one of the first outlets to report the cancellation, though their initial report was refuted by some involved upon publication.

9/22 -‘Out of control situation’: Uncertainty looms over cancellation of ‘Free Speech Week’ (DailyCal): This article highlights some of the confusion in the press over whether the event was cancelled following KQED’s report.

9/19 – Press Release: ACLU of Northern CA Corrects the Record on Berkeley Patriot Statement as Reported on KQED’s The California Report (ACLU/NorthernCalifornia): The statement notes the legal organization is not involved in helping Berkeley Patriot.

9/22 – Confusion reigns as far-right Berkeley ‘free speech week’ approaches: Coulter won’t be coming (LATimes): The article notes that one of the event’s planned headliners, Ann Coulter, “never” planned to attend.

9/18 – Milo Yiannopoulos’ far-right Berkeley event is set to occur at birthplace of 1960s free speech movement (LATimes): The article notes Yiannopoulos’ attempts to leverage the history of Berkeley’s campus.

9/16 – ‘Failure to confirm’: Berkeley Patriot loses Zellerbach, Wheeler auditoriums for ‘Free Speech Week’ (DailyCal): One of the first dominoes to fall in what eventually became the cancellation of Free Speech Week.

9/19 – Op-Ed: There’s no crisis of free speech. Milo’s campus crusade is rank hypocrisy (TheGuardian): The author calls the perception of a threat to free speech a myth.

Berkeley Finances

9/24 – UC is handing out generous pensions, and students are paying the price with higher tuition (LATimes): The paper highlights what it frames as excessive benefits:

Nearly three dozen received pensions in excess of $300,000 last year, four times as many as in 2012. Among those joining the top echelon was former UC President Mark Yudof, who worked at the university for only seven years — including one year on paid sabbatical and another in which he taught one class per semester.

9/19 – Editorial: UC Berkeley is considering defunding valuable mentoring program. This is a mistake (DailyCal): The editorial cites research showing the program boosts transfer student GPAs.