"Hurricane Ben" may have finally blown through the University of California, Berkeley, but the school is bracing for an even more terrifying storm known as "Free Speech Week," and Berkeley's faculty is not happy about it.
As part of its new commitment to embracing all views, the campus is playing host to the four-day long event, sponsored by the Berkeley Patriot, the on-campus conservative student newspaper. From September 24 through the 27, Berkeley students will be treated to speeches from a number of controversial right-leaning speakers, including firebrand Ann Coulter and former White House senior advisor, Steve Bannon.
Each day will feature a different theme: “Feminism Awareness Day” on September 24, “Islamic Peace and Tolerance Day” on September 25, “ZUCK 2020” on September 26, and “Mario Savio is Dead” on September 27 (the late Mario Savio being a pioneer in Berkeley's "free speech movement" in the 1960s, establishing the school as a hotbed of ideas and an incubator for often countercultural thought).
But while the students seem to have begun to thaw in their approach to the conservative speakers they've been conditioned to consider "fascist" and "white supremacist" — after all, Ben Shaprio's speech last night went off so well, By Any Means Necessary protesters were forced to yell at police rather than Republicans for attention — the Berkeley faculty is having a difficult time processing this newfound embrace of intellectual discourse.
They don't believe in free speech for "fascists," by golly, and they're going to resist this onslaught of opposing viewpoints if it costs them their very jobs — and it might. Key members of Berkeley's faculty and administration are protesting Free Speech Week by refusing to work.
According to a letter written by seven faculty members — that reads a bit like a temper tantrum — teachers at Berkeley should take several steps to quash any hint of free speech on campus: cancel classes, refuse to show up for work, close and lock classrooms and study areas, and encourage students to stay at home for their own safety.
“This is a clear threat to public higher education,” one of the professors, African-American Studies Professor Michael Cohen, said. “People are coming to humiliate others and incite violence. … The boycott is a refusal to allow this to happen on our campus.”
The letter goes on for eight pages, but the first page is probably the most instructive. According to the Berkeley faculty, the alt-right is the most pressing threat to civilization today, and have left this fair nation awash in violence.
“We’re not afraid of Milo, Ann (Coulter) or Bannon’s words. We have a deep anxiety over the violence that their followers bring in response,” Cohen said.
Now, there's no discounting that white supremacists are dangerous, but there's no indication any actual white supremacists intend to show up to Berkeley's Free Speech week — and if recent history is any indication, it's Antifa Berkeley has to worry about.
The professors, who likely have nearly a decade of education each, also contend that speech they don't like, which they consider inflammatory and hateful, is not protected by the First Amendment.
And as for their new chancellor's commitment to the very ideals that made Berkeley the cradle of the free speech movement in America, and her promise to expose Berkeley students to all viewpoints, even ones they might think are problematic? Well, that simply will not stand either.
“Chancellor Christ’s idea that we can have these people on campus is a fantasy and a dangerous one," Cohen said.
Free Speech week will go on as planned, say Berkeley conservatives. According to the schedule, only one class — a low level anthropology lecture — appears to have been cancelled as a result of the event.