UC Berkeley Chancellor Announces 'Free Speech Year'

Protesters push a burning recycling bin at Trump supporters during a "Patriots Day" free speech rally on April 15, 2017 in Berkeley, California
Protesters push a burning recycling bin at Trump supporters during a "Patriots Day" free speech rally on April 15, 2017 in Berkeley, California / Getty Images
August 16, 2017

The new chancellor of the University of California - Berkeley announced on Tuesday her intention to make it "Free Speech Year" at a school that has previously seen violence erupt when controversial speakers were invited to campus.

Carol T. Christ—in a full day of media interviews and speeches covering her priorities for the coming year—said UC Berkeley would hold "point-counterpoint" debates, maintaining that the best answer to hate speech is "more speech," according to the LA Times.

"You have the right to expect the university to keep you physically safe, but we would be providing you less of an education, preparing you less well for the world after you graduate, if we tried to protect you from ideas that you may find wrong, even noxious," Christ said.

Christ's initiative comes after some 1,500 people, including masked members of the radical left Antifa group, launched an extreme demonstration in February in response to a planned on-campus speech by the alt-right's Milo Yiannopoulous. The protesters destroyed campus property, set fires, and attacked one another and police officers. Pro-Trump Republican Ann Coulter cancelled an appearance in April at the school due to safety concerns.

"Particularly now, it is critical for the Berkeley community to protect this right [of free speech]; it is who we are," Christ told the LA Times. "That protection involves not just defending your right to speak, or the right of those you agree with, but also defending the right to speak by those you disagree with, even of those whose views you find abhorrent."

Ben Shapiro, a conservative columnist and regular on the campus circuit, has been scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley on Sept. 14, though arrangements for that event remain in flux. Berkeley College Republicans, who invited Shapiro, said though school has offered to pay for the reservation of a 2,700 seat space, the student group has been told it will be responsible for covering the cost of security. According to the students, security for half the room would cost $10,000, which they may be unable to cover.

Christ's plans follow the California legislature unanimously passing a resolution earlier this summer that urges all of the state's private and public universities to issue statements voicing their commitment to free speech, such as those adopted by the University of California – Irvine and the University of Chicago.

Published under: First Amendment