Some UC Berkeley classes remain canceled despite ‘Free Speech Week’ cancellation

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Ciecie Chen/Staff

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In response to “Free Speech Week,” several faculty members preemptively cancelled classes. After the event’s sudden cancellation, many of these classes were made optional.

The Berkeley Patriot’s announcement of Free Speech Week, which was to be hosted by controversial conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos from Sunday to Sept. 27, prompted a faculty boycott of classes, while other faculty members opted to make classes optional, citing safety concerns.

“If students or faculty feel they should not come to campus, then they should not come,” read a statement sent out by the College of Natural Resources on Saturday.

On Sept. 14, 132 faculty members called for a complete boycott of classes and campus activities during Free Speech Week. Though the event was cancelled, hundreds of people, including faculty, still partook in a protest Monday afternoon beginning on Crescent Glade and moving to the center of campus.

Other professors, who did not originally sign the letter, later moved classes off campus.

“I have done a lot of reflection on how much of my attitude is related to white privilege, something of course I definitely benefit from in these kinds of situations,” said campus professor of environmental science, policy and management Lynn Huntsinger in an email to students.

Although the environmental science, policy and management department stood by the College of Natural Resources’ original message, individual faculty members were ultimately allowed to make their own decisions about the status of their courses, according to department chair George Roderick.

Associate professor of linguistics Peter Jenks resolved to leave his lecture optional, in part to avoid changing course scheduling multiple times in a single semester, but also to provide an alternative option to students who may not feel comfortable attending amid the protests.

“I was aware of the call to boycott, and I really understood the desire to boycott,” Jenks said. “I don’t think hate speech should be part of an educated conversation on inequality.”

Despite the heightened police presence on campus, Jenks also asserted that the events following the cancelled Free Speech Week and its responses are both “an interruption, but also an opportunity to learn.”

Justin Brashares, also a campus professor of environmental science, policy and management, further reiterated the department’s mission “to provide a safe environment for education and community for all” in an email, emphasizing that it “will not be threatened by a traveling circus of clowns willing to say whatever necessary to gain headlines and incite violence.”

Assistant English professor Jos Lavery said he decided to keep his courses canceled on account of the late timing, but he added that he is working to establish a two-hour make-up course sometime this week for those who missed lecture material.

Lavery commended the student response to the events surrounding Free Speech Week, in spite of what he described as a “campaign to normalize harassment.”

“A large majority of the campus are actively committed to defending free speech that doesn’t devolve into hate speech,” Lavery said. “The resilience of the students is really remarkable.”

Contact Naira Khalid at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @nairakhalid.