UC Berkeley professors request cancellation of Milo Yiannopoulos talk

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Twelve UC Berkeley professors sent a letter to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks requesting that campus administration cancel Berkeley College Republican’s event for Milo Yiannopoulos.

Calling his conduct “harassment, slander, defamation, and hate speech,” the letter cites examples of Yiannopoulos’s words and actions that the professors say violate UC Berkeley’s code of conduct as reasons to cancel Yiannopoulos’s talk Feb. 1. Since the letter was sent Jan. 3, nearly 90 additional professors have signed it, giving their support.

“We believe wholeheartedly in free speech and in the presentation of views that may be controversial or disturbing, politically or personally,” said David Landreth, one of the 12 professors who authored the letter, in an email. “However, Mr. Yiannopoulos’s public talks routinely veer into direct personal harassment of individuals; they often also call for such harassment and aim to incite it.”

The letter said women were referred to as “cunts” at Yiannopoulos’s talk at the University of West Virginia and transgender people were called “mentally ill” at his talk at the University of Delaware. As of July this year, Yiannopoulos was also banned from Twitter for encouraging his followers to attack an African American actress with hate speech, according to the letter.

At the University of Wisconsin, Yiannopoulos projected an image of a transgender student on a screen during his presentation, which was also being live broadcast onto the Breitbart News website, and began to “ridicule” and “vilify” her, causing the student to withdraw from the university, said the letter. This is similar to what the authors called “target cam,” where Yiannopoulos picks a student to display on his screen during his talks, another example of harassment.

The authors also questioned the cost of security for the event, asking in the letter how the estimated security costs of $10,000 will help the campus prevent harassment during the event.

“UCPD’s primary goal is the safety of the attendees and the speaker,” said UCPD Captain Alex Yao, the officer overseeing UCPD security for Yiannopoulos’s talk. “(We are) basically coming up with a basic security detail to ensure safety of the event, regardless of who the speaker is.”

The cost has not yet been finalized, but it is estimated that about 45 police officers will attend the event to handle crowd control and protest demonstrations, according to Yao. Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said in an email the campus will pay security costs not included in the basic security detail that may occur.

BCR did not wish to comment at this time, according to BCR treasurer David Craig. But according to Breitbart News, BCR sent a letter to Dirks in which it challenged the security fee, asserting that the fee is an attempt to prohibit the group from hosting Yiannopoulos. In the letter, BCR asked Dirks to waive the fee.

In response to the professors’ letter, Associate Chancellor Nils Gilman said the university would not engage in a “prior restraint of speech,” as the First Amendment prohibits the campus administration from restricting invited speakers based on their viewpoint.

The University may not engage in prior restraint of speech based on concern that a speaker’s message may trigger disruptions,” Gilman said in the letter. “We also note that at the heart of these constitutional rules is the objective of preventing opponents from effectively shutting down expressive activity that they don’t like, the ‘heckler’s veto’ as it is often known.”

Another letter, written by the same 12 professors and sent  Jan. 4, responded to Gilman by saying freedom of speech did not override the campus’s responsibility to protect students from harassment. It also continued to question the course of action the campus will take in the event harassment occurs.

“We expect that the campus administration will prevent a repeat of the (University of Wisconsin) event by defining conditions that will preclude the harassing behaviors that took place then — more like ‘ground rules’ than ‘security measures,’ ” Landreth said in an email. “We are eager to learn what those conditions might be.”

Contact Gibson Chu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @thegibsonchu.