Event disruption is antithesis of campus free speech tradition

Irene Chen/Staff

We are students, administrators and faculty who have come together in defense of vital values.

On March 2 in Zellerbach Hall, during a student-organized event called “Front Row,” Berkeley witnessed a disturbing violation of one of our sacrosanct principles, namely the right to the open and free expression of ideas. A small student group that calls itself the Student Labor Committee, or SLC, decided to use physical violence to attempt to disrupt this event. Though quick and professional action by the police prevented worse from occurring, it was a sickening moment.

As a community, we unambiguously denounce such behavior. We cannot shrug off these acts as “the exuberance of youth,” “it’s Berkeley,” or “it’s freedom of speech.” It is none of

these. This is our community and our campus, our place of work and our place of study. Violence has no place here. No matter what cause the disrupters may believe they are serving, it cannot justify the attempt to destroy a fundamental function (arguably the fundamental function) of the university — namely creating an open space for the free exchange of ideas.

Created by UC Berkeley students for an audience of UC Berkeley students, Front Row represents a celebration of creativity in the Bay Area: a forum where leading cultural figures share insights into their creative process and talk about the defining inspiration they gained from the people, natural beauty, and sheer energy of the Bay Area.

Last week’s inaugural edition of Front Row was led by Lars Ulrich, Metallica’s drummer, who talked in a public forum with a group of brilliant and creative people, including electronic music and dance music artist Bassnectar; Salesforce.com founder and philanthropist Marc Benioff; bassist Les Claypool; actor, writer and Zen Buddhist priest Peter Coyote; and Lars Ulrich’s octogenarian father, Torben Ulrich. It was, by all accounts, a remarkable occasion, the type of only-at-UC-Berkeley event that defines our campus. Having heard that the SLC intended to disrupt the event, Lars Ulrich at the start of the evening offered the mic and the stage to anyone who wanted to address the audience. One person did so, and after that, the event went on as planned. Later in the evening, Benioff was Ulrich’s guest interviewee.

What happened next was not protest, it was violence dressed up as protest: Shortly into Ulrich’s and Benioff’s conversation, a mob of SLC-affiliated students started screaming and rushed the stage, with one managing to physically assault Benioff before being wrestled to the ground by police. It was a shocking, vicious spasm, which fortunately did not result in any injuries — after which the show went on (as it must).

Front Row is a program of Cal Performances, whose mission is “to produce and present performances of the highest artistic quality, enhanced by programs that explore compelling intersections of education and the performing arts.” Cal Performances values the voice of UC Berkeley students and the bedrock principles of free speech and peaceful protest.

This disruption, however, emblemized neither. More than just an attempt to exercise the heckler’s veto, this was a planned, violent, bullying act, with the express purpose of destroying a core activity of the campus.

All groups at UC Berkeley have the right to free expression, but none have the right to prevent others from doing likewise, least of all by using violence. The disruption last week was not an example of protest, it was not the exercise of free speech. We will not compromise our mission to create and disseminate artistic expression, illumination and the evolution of ideas — for it is only through these means that we can better our community and society in general. It is a moral obligation of anyone who cares about the free exchange of ideas, the cornerstone of any democratic society, to condemn such behavior in unambiguous terms. Be it on our performance stages or in our classrooms, we hold true to our principles of the vital exchange of ideas. Most of all, we unequivocally condemn this violence, and we hope everyone in our community will join us in doing so.

Nils Gilman is associate chancellor and a CalPerformances board member. Ben Hermalin is vice provost designate and a professor of economics and business. Robert Dudley is a member of the Academic Senate Committee on Demonstrations and Student Actions and a professor of integrative biology. Matías Tarnopolsky is the executive and artistic director of Cal Performances. Robert Powell is acting chair of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate. Nika Hoffman, Grace Lee, Elizabeth Lin, Chris Viñan and Parmida Ziaei are Front Row student curators.

Contact the Opinion Desk at [email protected] and follow us on Twitter at @dailycalopinion.

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  • Berkeleylifer

    As a life long liberal, I feel but contempt and disgust for this kind of moronic behavior. There is nothing liberal about silencing those whom you disagree with. Pulling BS like this does nothing but give legitimacy to the arguments of right-wingers.

  • AnonymouseIsAWoman

    UC – Berkeley, Davis, and other campuses – has suppressed free speech for years. Anyone to the right of Karl Marx can expect to be assaulted, disrupted, or otherwise abused. When conservative students distributing literature are attacked, they are blamed by the administration for “provoking” the attacks. It is amusing to suddenly hear from academics that this sort of violence is not to be allowed, considering how academics and administrators have consistently supported the assailants until now.

  • Mark Talmont

    Sad, because things like this “Front Row” model are exactly what we need more of, a mix of genuinely diverse points of view and experience. What we are getting is less and less of this, exactly because people who have much to offer simply don’t want to get dragged into the mud by the likes of these “demonstrators”.

    I know that some of the top legal, financial, and creative brains in the country the world reside right in Berkeley and nearby environs. But they will have nothing to do with local public affairs because of things like this. There are people retired from successful careers who could contribute a lot to local politics and possibly even run for office except they don’t want to invite these kind of attacks, which unfortunately are becoming more common. For instance, the nurses union really disgraced themselves when they mobbed Meg Whitman’s home; apparently the goons in Oakland are really big on this sort of thing too.

    Maybe the Front Row organizers might consider doing something in a “live, on-line” format; you could get as controversial as you want and completely defeat the thuggish types penchant for disruption.

  • SGT Ted

    The hecklers veto is also a bullying act. It’s purpose is to deny others free speech rights and no one has the right to do it.

  • Moneyrunner

    I can’t decide who I despise more, the Leftists thugs and thug-ettes who use violence to silence anyone with whom they disagree, or the faculty and staff of academia who encouraged this kind of behavior. Make no mistake, they didn’t mind when conservatives were threatened. The few on the Right who are asked to speak on college campuses are just as regularly shouted down if they are not “disinvited” first. Academia was either silent or approving when Trump’s rallies were being mobbed. In fact, academia and the press couldn’t wait to blame Trump for the violence of the Left. But these cretins never thought that their little Mao Monsters would turn against them. But why wouldn’t they? What is the administration going to do beyond bleating or writing about “free speech?” That horse left the barn years ago. Expel rioters? That would lead to a large part of the faculty marching in solidarity with the Mao Monsters because this is the product of their ideology. This is what they have been teaching. This is where ideology taught in the classroom becomes practice in the real world.

    Want to see what real repression look like? http://www.thecollegefix.com/post/26662/

    • lspanker

      Many of the screaming children on our college campuses have an extremely distorted view of what goes on elsewhere on the planet. I feel quite fortunate that I was able to travel and see a good chunk of what goes on in the rest of the world before attending Cal. One of the more sobering experiences was standing at the border between West Germany and East Germany in the early 1980’s, looking at the minefields, electrified fence, raked patches of dirt used to detect footprints, guard towers, dog runs, trip wires and booby-trap devices set up to fire ball bearing shot along the fence line – all of this done not to keep invaders out of East Germany, but their own people in. That alone was enough to convince me that the problems of the world were far more complex to be merely blamed on evil Republicans being mean to minorities and poor people.

  • Aaron Azlant
    • lspanker

      Interesting article. The ironic thing is that militant lefties never seem to learn from history. The mass of violent left-wing demonstrations in 1968 got Richard Nixon elected when the average middle American decided that the Democrats were no longer able to control their own crazies, and the same tactics may very well put Donald Trump in the Oval Office this time around.

  • matt10023

    With all due respect to editorial writers, you’ve been long silent on other issues relating to free speech before this fiasco.

    One can only think free speech matters to you when you start considering where you will work when you graduate. So now you are aghast at the actions of your peers.

    Turn that same umbrage towards speech codes and overly broad “harassment” policies and then perhaps we’ll believe you.

  • CaptGravy

    Just once I’d love to see someone rushing the stage and whomever the “target” is be well trained in self defense of some sort and just absolutely floor them with one shot…and then continue on with their discussion while the moron is knocked out cold on the ground.

    • margin walker

      not exactly a perfect example of what you are talking about, but kinda close. popular tube site. video code is mO9GlJKPMzs

  • jmsroman

    The looney left has taken to violence as a means to its political ends and it keeps getting worse every year. As a matter of fact, their hypocritical behavior, self-righteousness and total and utter disregard for our Bill of Rights on a selective basis (read: rights only apply to them and to no one else) are one of many reasons I abandoned the democrats 7 years ago. I can’t embrace their violence, maniacal attacks on those not like them, nor their attack on the free exercise of rights by those they disagree with.

  • Plàya Manhattan.

    As a libertarian, I don’t know what to think of this. I hate violence when somebody is doing it to me, but I also hate cops, so I don’t mind when somebody does it to them. In a perfect libertarian world, I would get to define “violence,” therefore I would always be justified in acting violently toward others, because they aggressed against me first. And yes, I get to define “aggression” because I’m a libertarian, and that’s all we have, philosophically.

    • embala

      Is this supposed to be a joke? This reads like a bad parody of what libertarians think. Violence and aggression are terms with actual definitions in libertarian philosophy. You don’t get to define what they mean, and you don’t get to use them against others just because you feel like it.

      • Plàya Manhattan.

        Stop crying. It’s unmanly.

    • obamaiscarter

      Your post is laughable, but not because you have succeeded. Instead it is unintentionally hilarious because your knowledge and understanding of what libertarians actually believe is about as deep as a toddler’s training toilet.

    • lspanker

      Thanks for making it clear that you have NO idea how libertarians think.

      • Plàya Manhattan.

        Poor misunderstood libertarians. They can’t even agree among themselves that the sun rises in the east, but they insist upon being taken seriously. Why won’t stubborn America take libertarians seriously? Must be that America — all 320 million of us — are stupid proggies. Right?

        • AnonymouseIsAWoman

          Just you, darling.

    • Azr43l

      Morons like you are what give libertarians a bad name. You really don’t have any clue what a libertarian is. And yes, I recognize your lame effort at satire.

      • Plàya Manhattan.

        Name-calling is aggression, and you are violating the Non-aggression Principle! But how can I be both a satirist and a libertarian moron? Now you’re violating the Law of Identity. Time to brush up on your Aristotle!

        • lspanker

          Come back when you can participate as a thinking adult…

          • Plàya Manhattan.

            I’m a libertarian. Being a “thinking adult” goes without saying. It’s all the anarchists like “John” above who give libertarianism a bad name by pretending to be pro-liberty when they’re just anarchist scum.

          • AnonymouseIsAWoman

            No, you’re neither a thinking adult nor a Libertarian. You are a very confused leftist.

      • John

        It’s not satire. It’s a stalker. I post with that handle on a website called Reason.com, and I’ve smacked that pathetic person down in the comments section more times than I can count.

        This is “revenge”, I guess. Personally, I really like it. Just when you think somebody couldn’t possibly be more pathetic, something like this happens.

        • Plàya Manhattan.

          Poor “John.” Still living that anonymous life of delusional revenge fantasies, I see. Not that your “stalker” persecution complex isn’t also quite entertaining, in a pathological sort of way.

  • lspanker

    Interesting how this article was authored by “UC BERKELEY COMMUNITY MEMBERS”. The silence of the Senior Editorial Board on this issue speaks volumes.

  • Teddy Edwards

    The abandonment of the working class by President Obama created an angry-to-the-point-of-violent segment of the US population. How big a segment? 97 million Americans of working age are out of the labor force — the most in US history. Out of those 97 million ignored by Democrats, some feel betrayed, being Democrats themselves. While tens of thousands in every state are switching to the Republican Party (yeah, really), some are remaining Democrats and striking out.

    Think about the fact your own beliefs and political ideology has spawned this biolence. And then take responsibility for it.

    • lspanker

      There are positive and negative ways to express anger. Using force and intimidation to silence points of view you don’t agree with does not fall in the positive column. But then, that’s the difference between conservatives and hard-core lefties. Conservatives express their viewpoints as responsible citizens by writing books, sponsoring speaking yours, hosting and participating in radio talk shows and internet sites to try to present their views in a reasoned and coherent manner, intended to promote discussion. OTOH, lefties orchestrate mass hysteria, lie and distort the issues, and when that fails, use violence and intimidation to disrupt events and shout down others.

      Think about the fact your own beliefs and political ideology has spawned this biolence. And then take responsibility for it.

      My beliefs have done nothing of the kind. Time for you on the left to accept responsibility for the moral and intellectual failure of your own movement.

      • Teddy Edwards

        I can’t believe that I was a lefty at Berkeley. Man, do I regret that to this day. But I was only thinking of myself at that time. Joined the real world upon graduation, and learned it wasn’t all about me.

        Thanks for your comment. I absolutely agree with it.

        • lspanker

          I will concede I wasn’t quite sure as to who you were directing your comments initially, but I give you thumbs up for a reasoned response to mine, which probably were a bit more caustic than necessary.

  • silverlakesoccer

    A protester tries to run past Benioff, Benioff grabs his arm so the police can arrest him – and the campus administrators say the student protester “assaulted” Benioff. Amazing. All you need to do is watch the video folks – it’s on the daily cal website

    • nofrillsjustbills

      Hm. That’s not what I see when I look at the video: what I see is a punk kid running at Benioff and trying to grab the mic out of his hands — the definition of assault. Also, this editorial is by students and faculty, so it’s not just “administrators” describing this as assault.

    • lspanker

      How come those on the left seem to have no clue how other will respond to rash and intemperate actions when under duress? It’s like these fools who decide to physically assault people with weapons, or point what can be easily assumed to be guns at cops, and get shot. Lefties are always shocked and outraged by the outcome, while the rest of us are wondering who would be dumb/crazy/reckless enough to think they could get away with a stunt like that…

    • embala

      I did watch the video. The dude charged at Benioff like he was on an opposing football team. He’s got his hands on Benioff’s microphone as the cop tackles him. Try again.

  • Brian Carter

    I agree with the author. Yes, workers’ rights matter and their issue is important. But interrupting an event that we paid money for? You protestors have every right to boycott these events, but preventing others from enjoying them is a violation of their personal liberties. I saw the protestors run up from their seats, it looked pretty violent and the police were justified in their use of force/detainment methods. One guy charged Benioff and Lars very dangerously. These actions only make the cause look bad. I get that your cause may not be getting traction, sure it’s disheartening. But resorting to violence and disrespect is not in the Berkeley spirit. Be better citizens and smarter, more creative protestors.

  • Willie Sam

    Free speech is just a fiction of the authoritarian right. The question is who gets to speak and who gets to be heard. As Marcuse said: repressive tolerance is the ideology of oppression.

    There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop!

    • lspanker

      Spoken like a true left-wing tool.

      • Theresa Klein

        Exactly. Assaulting a speaker at a UC-Berkeley panel is throwing your body on the gears of the system? Because was was going on on that stage – letting someone express a contrary opinion! – Is so odious that you must fling yourself bodily upon it to stop them?

        This isn’t about resistance to oppression. It’s about a small, highly delusional cadre of leftists attempting to rationalize the violent suppression of dissent. It’s about the left convincing themselves that the way to win is to pretend that the Overton window is somewhere else and then to violently enforce where they think that window ought to be.

    • garyfouse

      Marcuse was an idiot leftist who said that when his people took over, his opponents would not have the right of free speech. His legacy lives on in the left of today. Chicago is the latest example. If that’s the kind of country you want to live in, Willie Sam, I recommend moving to N Korea. This is America.

    • Chris Bray

      Freedom is an authoritarian concept, brother — right on!

      • Dan Spitzer

        Hey, ole Willie is an advocate of Marcuse, a philosopher who joined the Communist Party. So it’s more than a little amusing to see Willie, a champion of a prominent member of an oppressive organization, speaking about freedoms. BTW, the repugnant Angela Davis-who most of her life was a member of the Communist Party, was mentored by Marcuse…

    • obamaiscarter

      Easily the stupidest, most unoriginal thing I have yet read about this topic. Using your logic, “any” organized speaking event could be construed, by an unimaginative, sloppy thinker(like you), as “repressive tolerance”. That the disruptive thugs were offered an opportunity to speak kind of demolishes whatever “point” you think you’re making. I can almost guarantee you wouldn’t be spouting such censorious nonsense if the speakers had been espousing some left wing viewpoint with which you agree. You’e a hypocrite and a poseur.

    • Man’s Ruin

      LOL: a speech by the drummer from Metallica is the ideology of oppression? Perhaps if you directed your energy toward actually working with the poor and disenfranchised of the nation (volunteering at a secular or religious non-profit that feeds the hungry is an excellent idea) rather than using your privilege to assault someone at an event that has nothing to do with your pet micro-issue, you would be less depressed and have higher self-esteem. The fact that you seem to honestly believe that mobbing this event in this fashion is a statement for justice and equality is so pathetic and absurd it almost seems like parody. You have no idea how sad your cry for attention actually appears to others.

    • matt10023

      Did you learn all of that from a pamphlet?

  • garyfouse

    Union-leftist thuggery. That’s what they do.

  • ShadrachSmith

    The Heckler’s Veto
    Can a group claim the right to grab other people’s microphone?
    The legal answer is no, but SJWs on campus are hardly restrained by law, are they :-)

  • lspanker

    This type of violent disruption is nothing new in the UC system, as anyone who has dared to express any political viewpoint to the right of Karl Marx has learned. It’s the hallmark of a morally and intellectually bankrupt political culture. Unfortunately, it has been allowed to fester for too long due to the spinelessness and timidity of students, faculty, AND administrators who were willing to look the other way as long as THEIR viewpoints weren’t the ones being shut down…

    • Arafat

      LOL…Well said.

    • Mr. Jones

      My only regret is that I have but one upvote to give.

  • M2000

    Fine then, you should have zero problems of anyone who disagrees with your events to be disrupted…

  • Dan Spitzer

    Unions, which rightfully used to have a “good name” when it came to freedom of expression, have seen their ethical stature plummet on campus. The union comprising student teaching assistants voted to exercise BDS vs the Israeli academic community (no such calls for boycotts vs the dictatorships of the Islamic world, African tyrannies, or-perish the thought-that academic cash cow China). And now this attempt to short-circuit educative exercises in free speech brought to UCB under the auspices of Cal Performances.
    We have seen various student groups on UC campuses, such as Students for Justice in Palestine, MSU and BSU attempt to abrogate the rights of speakers with whom they disagree. And nationwide, this has actually been counterproductive for so-called progressives with the attempt to keep the loathsome Donald Trump from speaking by groups such as BSM. Unfortunately, this endeavor to shut down someone admittedly repugnant yet guaranteed free speech by our First Amendment has only served to strengthen his supporters.
    Oh yes: Berkeley’s vaunted heritage of the Free Speech Movement. It should be noted that when SJP and MSU attempted to rescind the invitation to speak at commencement extended to Bill Maher, the FSM steering committee refused to affirm Maher’s free speech rights.
    Apparently, for some on both the left and the right, freedom of expression is only permissible if it affirms one’s own political perspectives. This is healthy neither for our institutions of higher learning nor our nation at large…

    • Dan Spitzer

      Sorry for typing quickly and getting caught up in the lefty letter soup. I meant Black Lives Matter when I discussed an organization which has ironically strengthened Trump by trying to abrogate his right of free speech. Some BLM people, connected to the Hillary Clinton organization, have even attempted to do likewise to the genuinely progressive Bernie Sanders. This sort of deplorable action is exemplary of what could justly be termed “neo-fascism.”

      • crilk

        “Some BLM people, connected to the Hillary Clinton organization”


        • Dan Spitzer

          They identified themselves as such when interviewed on CNN…

          • Arafat

            Yes, but if they deny the Bern’s right to free speech just imagine what they’ll do to a hypocrite like Hillary,

          • Dan Spitzer

            But then they will go and say that they did it in the best interests of fellow African Americans. How can BLM provide such ludicrous rationales? Because Black Lies Matter…

          • Arafat

            Except to Blacks who shoot one another as if their lives do not matter. Wassup with that?

          • Dan Spitzer

            As former SF Mayor Willie Brown and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young have said, if Black lives really matter, young African American activists would acknowledge that more blacks kill other black youths every single day than do police in a year. Having one’s priorities straight is the crux of successful political advocacy, not placing the blame where it doesn’t belong…

          • Arafat

            When blacks stop blaming everyone and anyone for their own shortcomings, bad choices and irresponsibility then real progress can be made. I’m not holding my breath in anticipation of this happening anytime soon.

      • Arafat

        One of the more delightful moments of this election cycle is when the self-righteous Black Lives Matter group prevented Bernie Sanders from speaking.

        One liberal group stopping one white socialist from his First Amendment rights. The pathetic part of it is neither party learned a thing from that confrontation.

        David Horowitz coined the phrase, “Scratch a liberal hard enough and you’ll find a totalitarian.” The BLM confrontation with the Bern proved David’s point.

        • AnonymouseIsAWoman

          I have always assumed that the Left in the US is composed of spoiled rich brats who are annoyed that they are expected to wait until they are older to abuse working class people to the same extent as their parents. It is worth noting that every American Leftist terrorist movement managed to kill a lot of working class people, and none from the ruling class. It is also noteworthy that this sort of nonsense goes on at expensive, “prestige” universities, and is almost absent at schools that are thoroughly focused on science, agriculture, and engineering. I have long thought that removing graduate level liberal arts programs from a campus would do a great deal towards ending campus oppression of divergent opinions. Just create a campus specifically for the liberal arts, and surround it with chained link and barbed wire to protect local residents…. and I am the *daughter* of a man who was a full professor in the humanities at a university in the Pacific Northwest.

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