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Berkeley Administrators Put in Difficult Spot Amid Free Speech Concerns

The campus at the University of California, Berkeley has been embroiled in more unrest and general agitation that at any time since the 1960s. It was then that the fledgling Free Speech Movement was born out of radical student activists seeking to redress grievances, including the criminal war being waged in Vietnam.

Yet recently, it seems that the spirit of student activism has taken a completely 180 degree turn. While the student activists of today may look, at least in form, as their counterparts of the ’60s, they certainly do not resemble them in function. The new student activists seem to be, more than anything, against free speech. This is richly ironic, coming from the very birthplace of the movement bearing free speech in its name.

Nevertheless, one of the unrecognized victims of this upheaval is the administration of the college itself. In a recent op-ed, Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, describes the difficult balancing act that he and his fellow administrators across the nation must skillfully execute. The case of the most recent planned speech of Ann Coulter is exemplary.

Ms. Coulter was scheduled to speak. The university could not guarantee the safety of all participants in the usual venues afforded to speakers, so she was offered a secure off-campus location in which to give her talk. She declined, saying the university was deliberately discriminating against her because of her viewpoint. She would have been forced to use a distant venue at a time when most students were not present.

The university attempted to negotiate with her but ultimately, she cancelled her speech. She then threatened to show up and give the talk anyway. This panicked the administration, which would have had to provide up to 100 police, costing tens of thousands. Ultimately, even that speech was cancelled. The university is currently being sued by a student group as a result of the final cancellation of the talk.

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