Berkeley College Republicans is threatening to sue UC Berkeley administrators after the campus rescheduled conservative author Ann Coulter’s campus event to May 2.
BCR has hired First Amendment lawyer Harmeet Dhillon to represent the organization in a potential lawsuit. If campus administrators do not permit BCR to host Coulter on April 27, as initially intended, BCR will “seek relief in federal court,” according to a letter sent Thursday by Dhillon to UC Berkeley interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Stephen Sutton.
“It is ironic that UC Berkeley, known to many Americans as the birthplace of the free speech movement, is now leading the vanguard to silence conservative speech on campus,” Dhillon said in her letter. “Surely a public institution of higher learning should be a crucible of challenging ideas and thought.”
Coulter was invited to speak on campus by members of BCR and BridgeUSA, a nonpartisan campus political organization. The event was postponed to September after campus vice chancellors Sutton and Scott Biddy sent an email to BCR members informing them of security risks associated with the event.
On Thursday, however, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced at a press conference that the campus was making arrangements to host Coulter on May 2.
In a series of tweets, Coulter expressed discontent with speaking on campus during the first week of May because the event would coincide with the campus’s RRR week — the week before final examinations, when no classes are held.
“I’m speaking on 4/27,” Coulter said Thursday afternoon in a tweet.
According to UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof, the campus does not have a venue available for April 27 that UCPD could reasonably assess as “protectable.” The campus is concerned about Coulter’s “disregard for the assessment and recommendations of law enforcement professionals,” Mogulof said in an email.
Mogulof emphasized that the campus’s primary concern is ensuring the safety of students and other members of the campus community.
“We are confident that we are on very solid legal grounds,” Mogulof said in his email. “The constitution permits the University to take such steps to protect public safety while facilitating expressive activities, and that is exactly what we are doing.”
On Friday, Christopher Patti, chief campus counsel and associate general counsel, sent a letter to Dhillon responding to allegations that the campus was infringing on the First Amendment rights of BCR members. In the letter, Patti said that because BCR rejected the campus’s offer to reschedule the event for May 2, campus administrators have discontinued their “extensive planning efforts” to host Coulter on that date.
Dhillon responded to Patti’s letter Friday as well. In the letter, she expressed disappointment that Patti misgendered her as “Mr.” in a previous letter to her. Additionally, Dhillon said in the letter that campus administration originally offered several venues for Coulter’s speech, including Booth Auditorium, Anderson Auditorium and Zellerbach Auditorium. She further alleged that the campus announced a new policy April 13 that hindered BCR’s ability to host Coulter.
“The Berkeley College Republicans were informed on April 13 that at the March 1 meeting, UC Berkeley administrative staff, UC Berkeley Police Department personnel, the City of Berkeley’s Mayor’s Office, and the Berkeley Police Department, decided amongst themselves that “events involving high-profile speakers would be conducted during daytime hours,” ” Dhillon alleged in her letter.
Although some news outlets have reported that BridgeUSA is also threatening to sue the campus, BridgeUSA co-president Pranav Jandhyala said the organization is not involved with the lawsuit at all.
“We don’t want to take that approach. We think it’s unnecessarily combative, and that’s not appropriate,” Jandhyala said. “We think that we can use different ways of trying to make sure this event happens at a time that is good for students, at a time that is good for Ann Coulter, but we don’t think that taking it to court right now is necessary.”
Contact Harini Shyamsundar and Chantelle Lee at [email protected].