Majority of UC Berkeley STEM professors will conduct class during ‘Free Speech Week,’ despite faculty boycott

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Of the 132 faculty members who signed a letter advocating a boycott of classes and campus activities during the upcoming “Free Speech Week” at UC Berkeley, only five professors are from STEM departments on campus.

Free Speech Week will take place from Sept. 24-27, during which speakers including Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter and Steve Bannon plan to visit campus. In response to the controversial speakers and the protests associated with them, the letter, co-written by seven faculty members, calls for professors to cancel classes to ensure student safety.

“As faculty we cannot ask students and staff to choose between risking their physical and mental safety in order to attend class or come to work in an environment of harassment, intimidation, violence, and militarized policing,” the letter states.

While these members of the faculty pledged to cancel their classes, several STEM courses, including Bio 1B and MCB C62, will continue through the week and administer midterms.

African American studies professor Michael Cohen, one of the co-authors of the letter, said the lack of STEM faculty on the letter is not a result of any ideological discrepancy between STEM and humanities faculty members — rather, he attributed it to the short timeline regarding preparation of the letter and the specific relevance of Free Speech Week to humanities buildings and courses.

Given that the letter was only released last week, Cohen said there is still time remaining for other STEM professors to join the effort.

He added that the humanities buildings are on the south side of campus, near Sproul Plaza, where the protests usually take place. Because humanities classes are adjacent to the riot barricades, police dogs and expected violence, it is difficult for students and faculty to ignore the activity.

“Lastly, Milo and his people have attacked our disciplines and harassed … faculty and students directly,” Cohen said. “This is especially true for my departments, which are heavily populated by underrepresented minorities and immigrant students. The threats are all too real to myself and my students.”

On the other hand, chemistry professor Kristie Boering said her class, Chem 1A, will continue as planned.

“I have a job to do,” Boering said.

She also stated that if students feel unsafe, they will not be penalized for their absence. Boering said students can instead participate online but that she will still physically conduct her class, unless otherwise directed by campus administration.

In order to increase the participation of STEM faculty in the boycott, Cohen said he is eager to meet with STEM faculty members and discuss whether they will cancel classes.

“I believe that any such divide can be overcome,” Cohen said. “This campus can unite against racism, sexism and the kind of anti-intellectual provocation represented by this so-called ‘Free Speech Week.’ ”

Contact Rishabh Nijhawan at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @realRishNij.