The circus surrounding Ann Coulter’s speaking at Berkeley may be over, or not, as it appears that proxies will speak the words she was supposed to speak before her student sponsors pulled the plug and she canceled. Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, who is in a terrible position between the First Amendment and his passionate tuition payers, tries to rationalize what happened.
The Berkeley College Republicans invited Ms. Coulter without consulting with the university about the date of the event. This meant we at the school were unable to identify a place and time that could satisfy the extensive but necessary security requirements.
Out of the box, his excuses beg questions. Was “consultation,” a word chosen in lieu of the word Dirks meant, permission, necessary? The problem wasn’t the lack of a place, or a date conflict, not that those would be limiting factors to the students or speaker, but the school’s claimed security logistics. Ironically, Dirks’ omits that the driving force was his Antifa problem.
As a compromise, the college identified other dates and times for the event — during a forthcoming reading week or early in the fall semester — during which secure venues would be available.
The subtext is that the college’s solution was to move the speech to a time when students wouldn’t be there and a place off campus. Hey, kids, what about holding it at the Capt. Cook Hotel on April 7th, 2028? But his prefatory phrase is the giveaway, “as a compromise.” Since when is the First Amendment subject to compromise? Since when is a compromise something a college rams down the students’ throats?
Meanwhile, we were receiving mounting threats of violence around the event. People describing themselves as anarchists and anti-fascists openly threatened to prevent Ms. Coulter’s talk “by any means necessary.”
Might this be the problem? Might this be the only problem? Nope, Dirks writes.
Right-wing groups threatened to appear on campus armed to ensure the opposite — they declared the event would be held “by any means necessary.”
Putting aside the characterization, notably not self-described, as people who support free speech being “right-wing groups,” Dirks’ inclusion of these juxtaposed sentences is to balance out the violence, that it wasn’t just the Antifa but those awful right-wingers as well, that gave rise to the security problem. Newton’s Third Law doesn’t apply at Berkeley.
Given the reality of our times, we could not ignore these warnings. Berkeley has been the site of violent clashes this winter and spring — most notably when the right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos came to speak in February. Masked protesters infiltrated peaceful student demonstrations and set fires, injured people and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. While the school remains absolutely committed to ensuring that all points of view can be voiced and heard, we cannot compromise the physical safety of our students and guests in the process.
This is a false dichotomy, and it’s fair to believe that a guy who achieved the position of chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, grasps it. The options aren’t silence speech or compromise “the physical safety of our students,” but stop the violence on campus. Stop the culture of violence to silence speech. Stop the insanity of conflating disagreeable words with violence, with all manner of outrage rhetoric. But do not stop the speech.
But that’s not on the list of things to do at Dirks’ Berkeley.
Violence, of course, is a silencing tactic. It is the antithesis of open inquiry and of all the university represents. The question for Berkeley now is whether our commitment to the tradition of free speech extends to the point where we must allow our campus to be used for a publicity circus that has little to do with liberal discourse.
The question for Berkeley now is whether it will continue to foster the illiberal mindset that pervades its campus that speakers whose words don’t conform to progressive orthodoxy, who utter “hate speech,” should be silenced by violence. And Dirks makes Berkeley’s answer clear by condemning the “circus” rather than its violent students, by stopping speech rather than stopping the Antifa.
But the conflict Dirks tries so desperately to circumvent by somewhat artful rhetoric and dipping into logical fallacies, suggesting that his charges’ pedagogy hasn’t prepared them sufficiently for the critical thought needed to see through his spiel, has infected more than Berkeley.
The lawyer representing the Young Republicans, Harmeet Dhillon, when asked about the American Civil Liberties Union, responded “I don’t see the ACLU in this room, which is unfortunate.” So where was the fabulously wealthy ACLU? ACLU of Northern California responded by a press release:
Hate is contrary to our core values. The ACLU condemns bigotry and fights for equal rights for all, and we hope that the University and its officials will do the same. But no matter how heinous the speech, the First Amendment protects everyone. To be clear, the constitution does not protect speech that directly incites violence or harasses individual students or community members. We support the right to protest hateful speech, to urge others to boycott it, and to point out how wrong it is. We do not support government attempts to shut down an event or block the speech of anyone. (Emphiasis added.)
Putting aside the odd claim that “hate is contrary to our core values,” as it’s unclear whose values they’re talking about, but certainly not this nation’s, as there is no core value that we can’t love or hate anyone we please,* But see what they slipped in there? Lee Rowland wrote for ACLU National as well.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that free speech is without grave costs. I cannot imagine the pain that Holocaust survivors felt knowing that the KKK would march through their towns or the anguish a grieving father felt when his son’s funeral was surrounded by the petty signage of hate. On campus, if and when speech crosses the line into targeted harassment or threats or creates a pervasively hostile environment for vulnerable students, it isn’t protected. We fortunately have federal laws to ensure safe learning environments and equal access for all students. But being offended does not rise to that level. We live in an odd country, where the very First Amendment in our Bill of Rights protects hateful speech until it crosses that line. (Emphasis added.)
Even though “God Hates Fags” is protected, a “pervasively hostile environment for vulnerable students” isn’t? Did the Supreme Court slip in an opinion nobody noticed? There is no law behind the highlighted sentence, and the conflation of Chaplinksy’s largely disavowed “fighting words” doctrine has become the hook upon which the Antifa, Howard Dean and Dirks hang their violence.
There is a pervasively hostile environment brewing on campus, and it’s hostile toward free speech, with the endorsement and protection of the Academy and the fabulously rich protectors of civil rights. Their feelings toward hate speech is understandable, and no one says they have to like it. But these are the propagators of violence to silence speech, and this can’t be hidden behind their 99 problems.
*How much do they love Pol Pot? Stalin? And he who must not be named?