No one on the Foghorn staff would trade places this week with the chancellor of UC Berkeley, Nicholas Dirks. Because of recent destructive protests on Berkeley’s campus, UC Berkeley’s administration has had to make a difficult decision between upholding their legacy of the free speech movement or protecting their students from potential violent protests. Berkeley opted for the latter by deciding to cancel conservative commentator Ann Coulter from speaking on campus. Ann Coulter was invited by two Berkeley student organizations, the Young America’s Foundation and Berkeley College Republicans.
Since the year began, there have been two instances of dangerous protests at Berkeley that were reported nationwide. One was when antifas (anti-fascists) protested the alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos’ event on Berkeley’s campus, eventually leading to its cancellation by Berkeley. The other was a violent clash between alt-right protestors and antifas from a “free speech rally” organized by Trump supporters to take place in Berkeley.
It is in light of these events that Berkeley decided to cancel Ann Coulter’s event. In a letter to the Berkeley College Republicans, two vice chancellors said they were “unable to find a safe and suitable venue.” Yet Ann Coulter said she would still come. “I was invited to speak by two groups on campus, so I intend to speak,” she said on Twitter.
Fearing what an Ann Coulter event would look like with zero security, the two Berkeley student organizations withdrew their invitations to Coulter. She decided not to come in the end. However because Berkeley did not provide adequate security in the first place, the two student groups sued UC Berkeley for violating their First Amendment rights. They cited instances of Berkeley providing venues at inconvenient times and places only for conservative speakers.
All of this leaves Berkeley administration in a lose-lose situation. Either they allow conservative speakers to come to campus and risk riots, or they ban them altogether and face accusations of stifling free speech.
The Foghorn believes that free speech must be upheld, even if it means Berkeley spends more money on security for conservative events. The Foghorn understands that freedom of speech is crucial not only for a democratic society, but also for higher education to fulfill part of what it promises their students. Besides preparing students for careers after graduation, higher education promises to develop critical thinkers and expand the minds of their pupils. This simply cannot be done without exposure to opposing viewpoints.
Because Berkeley is a famously liberal university, they attract protesters from the outside world who come only to wreak havoc. It is true that this places more burden on Berkeley when trying to accommodate conservative speakers. But because Berkeley is an institute of higher education, and higher education is dedicated to the intellectual growth of their students, Berkeley should work to overcome these burdens. Even if this means spending more on security than they would have for a less controversial event. 53 years ago, Berkeley students protested their university for impeding on their first amendment rights during the Free Speech Movement. Berkeley is in the spotlight for free speech rights because of its historical significance. They have a responsibility to uphold the right to spread ideas and thoughts.
The Foghorn understands the difficulties that come with hosting controversial, conservative speakers, especially at liberal universities. Our own university tends to lean liberal. And although USF has not had any protested speakers recently, we would hope our school would work to accommodate free thought.