UC Berkeley staff members express safety concerns for ‘Free Speech Week’

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Emilia Bulfone/File

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UC Berkeley faculty members circulated a letter Wednesday morning calling for campus and the Berkeley community to boycott the “alt-right presence” by canceling all classes and campus activities for the duration of “Free Speech Week.”

The letter, signed by about 130 campus staff members, was written by seven professors from the African American studies, ethnic studies, gender and women’s studies and film departments. These departments house populations of students targeted by the “alt-right,” according to Leigh Raiford, campus African American studies professor and co-author of the letter.

“For me as a professor to ask those students to walk across Sproul Plaza, it is unethical,” Michael Cohen, campus professor of African American studies and one of the letter’s co-authors, said. “I’m (asking) my students to choose between their physical and mental safety for a grade.”

Several professors reiterated that a police presence on campus and the violence from past protests, such as Milo Yiannopoulos’s canceled campus event, pose a potential threat to students’ physical well-being. They added that this creates an unsafe learning environment that students should not be compelled to attend.

“We’re not safe, frankly,” Raiford said. “Part of this (boycott) is enabling the students who don’t feel comfortable for a variety of reasons. …  (It) gives them the opportunity to refuse to participate in this.”

Some professors also said it is not only students who are in danger. Raiford said that during the riots surrounding Yiannopoulos’s event, the African American studies department closed early so that staff could get home safely.

The letter also calls to shut down campus departments and buildings and let staff stay home.

“This is a workplace for hundreds of people,” Jeffrey Skoller, campus film and media professor and co-author of the letter said. “The idea that they would have to come and subject themselves to this kind of potential violence is not fair, it’s not safe.”

Skoller alleged that the campus administration refused to accommodate staff members’ request to relocate the event. He said that this left them with little choice other than to boycott the campus during the events.

“Part of our motivation is that the administration has not made choices that are respectful of the people who study and work here,” Raiford said.

Some campus departments are also being affected by “Free Speech Week.” The anthropology department rescheduled a guest lecture by Anna Tsing for Sept. 25 because of security concerns. Uncertainty surrounding the events has also pushed gender and women’s studies professor Barbara Barnes to move an in-class exam to online.

Chancellor’s professor of gender and women’s studies Charis Thompson said she was holding classes remotely and boycotting campus to be fair to students at risk.  

In response to the petition, campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said that decisions regarding classes and buildings are up to the faculty. He emphasized that the campus administration was attempting to provide information and advice regarding the upcoming schedule, although that schedule might change.

Mogulof added that the Berkeley Patriot, a campus conservative newspaper that is hosting the incoming speakers, has so far neglected to complete essential steps, such as confirming a list of speakers, contacting police, securing contracts and providing payments to indoor venues.

According to Mogulof, if this information is not provided soon, it is possible that the schedule for “Free Speech Week” could change.

Raiford said she hopes the events will be canceled. She said she believes that the opinions of the invited speakers are intellectually discredited and do not contribute to the “intellectual mission of the university” in any significant way.

According to Skoller, however, the purpose of the petition remains aimed at the safety of campus students.

“There are a lot of students in a lot of different situations … so we felt that boycotting and canceling classes was one of the few things we could do,” Skoller said. “The issue that we’re talking about is the issue of safety for the very diverse student body and community that we have here.”

Contact Elena Aguirre at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @eaguirreDC.

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  • Questioning Everything

    Those who can’t do, teach…

  • Jack Spencer

    If as an educator, you object to an equal airing of ideas and positions, than you need to get out of the profession. Get out, before you betray it any further.

  • Ray Matheny

    I certainly hope the football team is as spineless as the seven faculty members mentioned in this article.

  • Karmann Ghia

    i wouldn’t attend this cesspool of leftist elitism if you paid me

  • hoapres

    Go out and get a job.

  • Pacifico

    I love all the racists, who howl about the “ghetto” being “dangerous” for white people (despite never, ever going there themselves), insisting that students and faculty subject themselves to physical danger from roving gangs of caucasoids and police hopped up on white supremacy.

    • lspanker

      Nothing like making up stuff as you go along, eh?

      • Pacifico

        No need, as truth is stranger than fiction. I went to Cal and loved Berkeley. But that didn’t mean I was any less wary of packs of young, drunk white men on Piedmont, than I was anywhere else. Ask your one black “friend” about their feelings of safety around the above. You might learn something.

        • lspanker

          You make a lot of assumptions – come back when you can actually back any of them up.

          • Pacifico

            My lived experience is not subject to your sniping. But I’ll make my exit on this assumption. Your intimate familiarity with black people is as thin and narrow as your commentary.

            The right of reply and the last word is yours.

          • lspanker

            You know nothing about my “intimate familiarity with black people” or anything else about my beliefs. You’re a typical lefty, projecting absolute nonsense in your abject ignorance because you could never win an argument based on what others actually say or do…

  • Rollie

    Does anyone else suspect that these professors fear their students forming their own opinions, rather than embracing the views they wish to impose on them? What else explains these professors essentially commanding students to stay away from opposing speech, and trying to convince them that they are “at risk.”?

    Students should develop open and inquisitive minds, not be groomed as intellectual shut-ins.

    • lspanker

      Does anyone else suspect that these professors fear their students forming their own opinions, rather than embracing the views they wish to impose on them?

      (Bell goes off to audience applause)

      “Johnny, tell our guest what he has won tonight…”

  • lspanker

    These campus doctrinaire lefties seem to have far less fear of those actually causing the violence (Antifa) than those exposing their own hypocrisy.

  • Left Unsaid

    Cancel liberal arts and left focused curricula (which is about 50%) and bar the students and profs from campus.