‘Free Speech Week’ at UC Berkeley was a ‘political theater,’ Carol Christ tells ASUC Senate

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Jihoon Park/File

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Chancellor Carol Christ appeared at Wednesday evening’s ASUC Senate meeting to discuss the administration’s response to last week’s canceled “Free Speech Week” event.

Christ said at the meeting that she believed the goal of the Free Speech Week organizers was not to actually have the events, but to use the threat of the events “in some political theater … that exists outside of (the campus).”

“The event was a fiction. The event was designed to be a provocation to try and get us to cancel the event and then to get the news story that they wanted,” Christ alleged at the meeting.

She added that instances of harassment that had occurred before the four-day-long event was scheduled to take place, including chalkings that targeted undocumented students and Milo Yiannopoulos’ public identification of two students, were allegedly all part of a strategy to provoke the campus to cancel the week.

“I have no tolerance and this campus has no tolerance for that kind of bigoted, hateful, oppressive behavior,” Christ said of the harassment during the meeting.

According to Christ, if administration had decided to cancel the event, UC Berkeley would have been sued and the courts would have required the campus to go forward with the event.

Several senators, however, expressed concern about Christ’s legal justification for not canceling Free Speech Week.

“It seems like we’re falling back on this argument of legality, when other public universities have asked that Milo (Yiannopolous) not come,” said ASUC Senator Rizza Estacio during the meeting.

Others said they felt that the administration’s decision to not cancel the event communicated that the school prioritized legal obligations over student safety.

“I feel that the administration is hiding behind the constitution and the law,” said ASUC Senator Juniperangelica Cordova-Goff at the meeting. “The fact that the campus is not willing to go to court for this … is ridiculous. … Safety should take more of a priority.”

Several senators added that the large police presence on campus during Free Speech Week was disruptive to students and that funds allocated for the expenses could have instead been spent on hiring more teaching assistants.

Christ justified the security as a reaction to the possibility of outsiders causing violence on campus, referencing the violent protests that stopped Yiannopolous from speaking earlier this year.

“There are eruptions of horrible, horrible violence in lots of places,” Christ said at the meeting. “Just think about … the horrible, horrible carnage in Las Vegas. … We’re living in a very violent and frightening time.”

While ASUC Senator Hani Hussein said she appreciated that Christ had given straightforward answers to the ASUC Senate, she said she believed communication from administration had not been as clear during Free Speech Week.

“This is the first instance where admin has been forthcoming with answers. … That should have been done last week,” Hussein said.

Contact Hannah Piette at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Hannah_PietteDC.

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  • s randall

    Unfortunately, Berkeley is a high profile target. That comes with our reputation and legacy.

    We aren’t the only institution that has to waste money on this nonsense.

    https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2017/10/06/white-supremacist-will-speak-university-florida

    • Rollie

      Who do you blame for the waste of money…the hosted speakers who stand on a stage and utter mere words into the air, for listeners to take or leave as they see fit, or the thuggish little blackshirts who arrive en masse to censor them, and do so violently? Which of the two are the barricades and the overtime-heavy police there for?

      Controversial appearances—even the ones you consider to be “nonsense”–would come and go quietly, and quite cheaply too, if not for the threats and actual mayhem of those who claim the right to decide what’s fit for others to hear.

  • Volio

    The fact that it was political theater was obvious to outsiders on both sides of the political spectrum and I’m glad Christ didn’t play into their hand; it ultimately generated bad press for the organizers and Milo as it showed just how disorganized and ridiculous the whole charade was from the start. I would like to hear more about how the campus intends to deal with the harassment – these kinds of real threats to the students can and should be aggressively investigated and prosecuted.

  • whatever

    Those are mighty strong allegations that would be tantamount to defrauding the school as well as defrauding vendors and ticket purchasers.

    Christ should put her money where her mouth is and sue the and take any or all means to kick that group out.