Campus must be defended against hostile private interests

Adeline Belsby/Staff

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Although the threatened right-wing invasion devolved into the “most expensive photo-op in the university’s history,” this is unlikely to be the last attempt to disrupt our campus. There are lessons to be learned.

Freedom of speech is one foundational principle of the public university. Academic freedom is another. Since 1964, when the UC Berkeley administration was successfully challenged by the Free Speech Movement to extend First Amendment protections to campus space, the university has had to balance the obligation to allow citizens’ speech against the commitment to academic freedom. As a public entity, UC Berkeley must respect the airing of diverse viewpoints; as a higher learning institution, UC Berkeley must protect its autonomy from political interference and harassment. Increasingly, the threat to the campus’ autonomy, on which academic freedom depends, derives not from government legislators—as in the era of the FSM, when former UC President Clark Kerr and former UC Berkeley chancellor Edward Strong were faced with adjudicating competing obligations to free speech and academic freedom. Rather, the threat increasingly derives from private interests hostile to the university’s mission of research and teaching.

These private interests include hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, a major investor behind Milo Yiannopoulos, as well as the billionaire Koch brothers and Amway billionaires Richard and Helen Devos who back the Young America’s Foundation, sponsors of the college campus circuits of David Horowitz, Ann Coulter and Ben Shapiro.

The entire right-wing spectacle at UC Berkeley must be seen within this larger context of a long-running war upon public higher education. Its aspects include reducing its tax base, discrediting scientists whose climate-change findings lend support to government regulation of polluting industries, and a culture war upon desegregated communities of learning. Quality mass higher education, intellectually rigorous research and the embrace of diversity are the hallmarks of a public university’s service to democracy.

So far, our administration has opted to respond to these private interest groups’ disingenuous use of the First Amendment on their chosen terrain, by rolling out a welcome mat for speakers opposed to the public university’s mission. This strategy has already proven an extraordinarily expensive endeavor and will surely not be financially sustainable into the future at a time when huge cuts are being dealt to our core academic mission. There is, after all, a zero-sum relationship between moneys dedicated to providing security for professional provocateurs and moneys unavailable for the development of undergraduate education, for providing graduate students, lecturers, and staff with living wages for the Bay Area, or for making buildings compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The costs of this administrative strategy are more than financial. It is a legally defensive strategy restricted to a narrow focus on First Amendment liability that has exposed minoritized members of our community to harassment and danger. The protection of equity and inclusion is no mere rhetorical accessory but rather a precondition for a flourishing academic life.

From a public relations perspective, accepting the terms of a right-wing narrative about supposedly illiberal campuses by bending over backwards to subsidize an already well-financed right-wing assault on the university may do more to confirm the erroneous claims of that narrative than to change them. That narrative has become a crucial element in the arsenal of weapons used to attack our democracy. Make no mistake: the groups that attack transgender people, Muslims, people of color, women, legal immigrants as well as undocumented students, are also those that attack science, and feel no obligation to hold their views to academic standards of evidence or coherence. We, therefore, urge the administration to creatively and courageously confront the way free speech is being deployed against our academic freedom, and—in deciding what can take place on our campus — to prioritize the conditions that enable teaching and research.

Michael Burawoy, Julia Bryan-Wilson, Paul Fine, Lisa García Bedolla, Penny Edwards, Peter Glazer, Gillian Hart, Lyn Hejinian, Seth Holmes, Celeste Langan, Gregory Levine, Colleen Lye, David O’Sullivan, Christine Rosen, Leslie Salzinger, Shannon Steen and James Vernon are the members of the Berkeley Faculty Association Board.

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  • Man with Axe

    Right wing speakers would cost the university practically nothing if it were not for leftist anarchists who commit so much violence. Why don’t you address your scorn to them?

    I know why: You are all leftists.

    • BlackConservative

      This is true, can anyone argue against this? I went to hear Coulter speak on her book tour and she was very interesting to listen too and I don’t agree with her on Trump and many other things. Why can’t they just listen and then debate others who disagree in a civil way. I think it is because they do not have much ammo. A well balanced, armed, black conservative is the scariest thing to the democratic party and progressives even more. I get more racism from other blacks and white progressives than any other group. I don’t even feel like the victim because they just spew hateful nonsense.

  • D_Mitchell

    You can’t win on the free speech issue as an issue. You just give the right the high ground by writing op eds that seem to question it. You get attacked by folks who might ordinarily be sympathetic, e.g., “The Milo Yiannopoulos shtick shows the disconnect between Berkeley students and the meaning of free speech.”

    In fact, much of the associated stuff that is linked to the issue (safe spaces, etc.) doesn’t resonate outside academia. Here is Doonesbury on safe spaces, microaggressions, and snowflakes:

    You can say it doesn’t matter what the outside world thinks. The 2016 election says it does. Time for a change:

    • Emilia M.

      –Berkeley…the entire campus is a daycare center, the people (both faculty and students) are so emotionally fragile, that most belong in diapers breastfeeding.

    • lspanker

      You can say it doesn’t matter what the outside world thinks. The 2016 election says it does.

      Both the native and student/faculty populations of Berkeley are so removed from the rest of the country that they literally have no idea of what is going on beyond the city limits, save for the occasional sojourn to SF, Marin, or Tahoe…

      • 1/2Black_1/4Mexican_1/4White

        This is true of the outspoken progressives who seem to not understand what free speech is. It really pisses me off that Trump had to get involved with free speech in the NFL yesterday. Republicans/Conservatives/Democrats/Everyone need to fight for the right for people to do/say what they please, when it is not illegal or harming anyone else physically. Trump should not be saying anything about private industries. Strategically for his base it may be a good thing because progressives are so out of reality these days, but I just wish he would not say anything about private industries on Twitter. If Obama did this, I would not have liked it either, and I think you would agree too. I disagree with them kneeling, staying in locker room, ect but they have that right (no matter how silly it is). I honestly love football and just don’t care but it will be interesting to see how the ratings do this following Sunday. Why can’t everyone just stand for free speech even if you disagree with it.



  • roccolore

    It’s fascist Democrats like the faculty who are the hostile ones. They hate free speech.

  • “The entire right-wing spectacle at UC Berkeley must be seen within this larger context of a long-running war upon public higher education.”

    To be fair, you could argue public higher education is also taking part in a long-running war on the right wing. And I’m not sure who started it.

    But there’s one way in which the left seems to clearly be the aggressor: Have you ever heard of right-wing protesters trying to “shut down” a left-wing event? The right is better at practicing live and let live than the left.

    • 1/2Black_1/4Mexican_1/4White

      So true!

  • Killer Marmot

    This strategy has already proven an extraordinarily expensive endeavor and will surely not be financially sustainable into the future at a time when huge cuts are being dealt to our core academic mission.

    And why should it be “extraordinarily expensive”? After all, the use of a hall for an hour or two is a minor expense.

    It costs so much because of the security needed to prevent far-left groups from halting or disrupting the talk, assaulting people, and destroying property.

    Those are the real barbarians, Berkeley Faculty Association Board, and those are the people you should be denouncing. You should be ashamed that you do not.

  • SMH





    • SMH


      And, actually, the TV news said it was only 15 minutes!

      $800,000/15minutes = over **$53,000** per **minute**!!

      $1,000,000/15 minute = almost **$67,000** per **minute**!!


      • jeyhovah

        My god man, how many times have you made these same two comments since Sunday? You seem incapable of helping yourself. I can’t tell which side of the debate you’re on, just that you are more than slightly insane.

        • lspanker

          As far as SMH’s political leanings, he’s somewhere between the Very Silly Party and the Extremely Silly Party…

          • zzz

            The ministry of silly walks

          • lspanker

            He could be an evangelist for the Ministry of Silly Talks.

          • SMH

            “lspanker”, you surrrre do spend a *LLLOT* of time thinking about me, don’t ya?

            I’m *’flattered’* “lspanker” that you, speaking of OCD, *DEVOTE* SO *MUCH* of your time thinking about me.

            Obviously I’m the *highlight* of your day — *understandably*!

          • SMH

            Coming from someone “lspanker” with “*spanker*” in his username. Hahaha…

        • SMH

          Yes, jeyhovah, I am God man.

          • lspanker

            You spelled “dog” backwards again…

          • SMH

            jeyhovah to SMH: “My god man”

        • Nunya Beeswax

          OCD, probably.

          • SMH

            “OCD” like a *fox*!

          • Nunya Beeswax

            What, no maniacal laughter? You’re losing your touch!

          • SMH

            You alt-right nutcases can’t live *without* me, can you…

          • Nunya Beeswax

            Don’t flatter yourself, bub.

            I’m about as much “alt-right” as you are–and as far as “nutcase” goes, there’s a saying about glass houses.

          • SMH

            Me thinks thou doth protest too much…

            You’re *already* back again…!

            Yeah, let’s see if you can do *without* me…

            I know that “lspanker” is always all over my jock…, so he obviously can’t…