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Berkeley Free Speech Movement Is Alive And…Well?

May 21, 2018 Frontpage No Comments

By MIKE MANNO

It wasn’t that long ago that rioters at the University of California at Berkeley gained national attention by rioting against “provocative” speakers. In response the university chancellor appointed a Commission on Free Speech to review the causes of the disturbances and to recommend policy changes.
Appointed to the commission were 23 faculty, staff, and student members. The commission duly filed its report and recommendations finding that the cause of the campus upheaval was the conservative students themselves, bigoted as they are:
“The rise of ultra-conservative rhetoric, including white supremacist views and protest marches, legitimized by the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, encouraged far-right and alt-right activists to ‘spike the football’ at Berkeley. This provoked an at-times violent (and condemnable) response from the extreme left, tearing at the campus’s social fabric.”
Interestingly, the phrase “spike the football” was footnoted with an explanation of what the term means, just in case the Berkeley-educated didn’t know. But I digress.
The commission noted that conservative speaker Ben Shapiro spoke without incident at Berkeley in April of 2016, yet was met by hundreds of protesters when he appeared there in September of 2017. What was the difference?
Well, the commission noted that for his second appearance the university spent $600,000 to “protect both his first amendment right to speak and the safety of supporters and detractors around the venue.” Yet it still blamed the rise of ultra-conservative rhetoric on the riot — not the increased sensibilities of those on the left who, presumably, cannot control themselves when someone speaks from the other side of the political aisle…or sidewalk, or whatever.
The commission blames speakers, such as Shapiro and author Ann Coulter, who “expressed little interest in reasoned discussion of contentious issues,” and were sponsored by “very small groups of students working closely with outside organizations.” Adding, “Although those speakers had every right to speak and were entitled to protection, they did not need to be on campus to exercise the right of free speech.”
It opined: “Many Commission members are skeptical of these speakers’ commitment to anything other than the pursuit of wealth and fame through the instigation of anger, fear, and vengefulness in their hard-right constituency. . . .
“The assertion of individual rights at the expense of social responsibility by a handful of students had enormous consequences for the campus. Many students and staff felt threatened not just by the message of the speakers, but by the large police presence required to assure everyone’s safety.”
So much for the free exchange of ideas!
The commission then touted its commitment to remain a “tolerant campus” by pointing out that a survey of incoming students last fall showed that three-quarters of them agreed that Berkeley has the “responsibility to provide equal access to safe and secure venues for guest speakers of all viewpoints — even if the ideas are found offensive by some or conflict with the values held by the UC Berkeley community.” It must have been that final quarter that was causing the trouble.
The commission also noted that it was a campus of inclusion, welcoming all “in a spirit of civility and respect,” yet noted: “Such civility and respect, however, are not required by the First Amendment.”
The commission then made recommendations concerning expanding the university’s free speech zones and pondered whether the police presence was “intimidating and alienating,” especially to those from communities with “historically poor relationships with the police.” It also suggested that when these provocative speakers come to campus perhaps the school should provide competing acceptable speakers, or perhaps a teach-in with representatives of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which lists four religious liberty legal defense groups, such as Liberty Counsel, as well as the Traditional Values Coalition, the Family Research Council, and the American College of Pediatricians (for their opposition to LGBT adoptions) as “hate groups.”
Of course I don’t detect a note of cynicism in any of this.
So much for Berkeley, but other colleges are getting into the act. Consider:
At Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, the Student Senate has refused to officially recognize a chapter of Turning Point USA due to “concerns regarding this potential student organization outweighed the potential contributions to campus,” according to The College Fix. Included in the “concerns” were the actions of the group’s leaders and speakers that included “hateful, sexist, racist, or otherwise discriminatory messages.” When The College Fix asked Student Senate President Ethan Berube for examples, Berube did not respond.
Turning Point USA, by the way, is a conservative economic association that promotes freedom, free markets, and limited government; such things that would not fit well with a socialist worldview.
Speaking of socialism, The College Fix also reports on another case involving Turning Point USA, this one from the University of Wyoming where the group had its access to student government funds cut after it sponsored conservative commentator and radio host Dennis Prager. Prager is the creator of PragerU, a series of five-minute videos on conservative topics available on Facebook and elsewhere on the Internet.
The subject of Prager’s talk was “Socialism Makes People Selfish.” The report by Fix editor Jennifer Kabbany states: “Hunter McFarland, director of diversity for the university’s student government [said that she] wanted Prager’s talk to be cancelled because he ‘is an anti-academic, rape advocate who spews hate speech against Muslims, black people, Latinas, and many other groups who deserve to be protected at the University of Wyoming’.”
Two other groups are under the gun at the University of Denver: the Young Americans for Freedom and the Federalist Society. Again, according to The College Fix’s Andrew Johnson, both groups are dwindling due to bullying and intimidation from students and the administration.
When the Federalist Society hosted When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment author Ryan Anderson, the university’s Title IX office and the Committee on Free Expression each issued a statement encouraging complaining students to respond with counter-protests, teach-ins, and debates, as well as “other creative responses.”
The result, according to Johnson’s article: “Multiple students protested the lecture by sitting on top of desks, tapping to distract the speaker and audience, and repeatedly interrupting. After the lecture, Anderson was accosted by several protesters, who repeatedly obstructed his path and yelled obscenities at him.”
Campus Reform reports that at Lone Star College in Texas a business student, Quade Lancaster, had his award for academic excellence revoked and was removed from his position as student government president after he spoke against gun control and the bias against conservative viewpoints. He was told by an administrator: “from one white person to another” he was not allowed to express his opinion on gun control.
And finally, The New Oxford Review this month reports on the saga of Providence College student Michael Smalanskas. It seems that Smalanskas set up on a hallway bulletin board a display titled “Marriage: The Way God Intended It,” which upheld the traditional Catholic teaching. Immediately, the harassment began, with a mob of students showing up at his room, following him to the restroom and demanding that he be fired from his resident adviser job. Campus security had to move him to another, undisclosed room.
You would think that at a Catholic college a student supporting the Catholic view of marriage would at least be tolerated. Sorry. Not only did administrators generally not defend Smalanskas but sided against him, urging students to march against “transphobia and homophobia.” (It should be noted that Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I., was supportive of Smalanskas.)
So much for free thought in academia. We’re now at graduation time. I wonder how many conservative commencement speakers there will be this year.

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