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UC Berkeley Commission Issues Report on Controversial Events

The report blamed violent campus protests on a coordinated campaign to organize events on college campuses likely to incite violent reactions.

UC Berkeley Commission Issues Report on Controversial Events

Colleges— and specifically campus police— are often caught in the middle of student protests over controversial speakers. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

A commission of UC Berkeley faculty, staff, students and administrators issued a report on managing politically controversial events and protecting free speech following a year marked by violent and expensive UC Berkeley protests

The report reaffirms the university’s responsibility to defend free speech while stating the school “must commit itself to reducing the likelihood of disruption from provocative events, and must take steps to avoid harm to the community when such events occur.”

As the school at the forefront of the high publicized controversy over college protests and free speech on campuses, UC Berkeley spent nearly $4 million on security for three events between August 27 and September 27 last year. That spending came after protesting on the campus in February of last year forced the school to shut down an event featuring controversial right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos and led to more than $100,000 in damage to the campus.

The report blamed the violence on “the rise of ultra-conservative rhetoric, including white supremacist views and protest marches, legitimized by the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath…”

As a result of these incidents, UC Berkeley created a new events policy that includes the following:

  • A requirement that non-departmental users provide the campus with at least six weeks of advance notice of proposed Major Events
  • Specific criteria defining events that must be submitted for review
  • A requirement that the UCPD provide a security assessment for potential Major Events
  • Utilization of neutral, objective criteria for review of events and requirements for security precautions
  • A requirement that non-departmental users assume responsibility for basic security costs
  • A requirement that contracts or obligations with outside speakers not be finalized until the availability of an appropriate venue can be confirmed and the event approved by the appropriate department
  • A timeline for each required step in the event planning process

The report’s recommendations were directed at three campus populations: Senior leadership and administration, faculty and students.

Recommendations for Senior Leadership Handling UC Berkeley Protests

  1. Continue to operationalize the Major Events Policy while remaining open to further revisions based on experience and input from the community
  2. Add West Crescent as a “Free Speech Zone”, which means an area of campus exempt from the Major Events Policy with fewer time, place and manner restrictions. There are currently two “Free Speech Zones” on campus. The commission also suggested moving one zone farther away from the central campus.
  3. Make the police a less intimidating presence during potentially disruptive events.
  4. Establish strong criteria for Registered Student Organization sponsorship of events that demand extra security, including a requirement that RSOs submit a public statement explaining how the event comports with the Principles of Community and forcing RSOs to provide volunteers to assist with the events.
  5. Increase communication about the steps faculty, staff and students can take to protect themselves from a disruptive event.
  6. Organize counter programming to empower targeted community members in the face of the most disturbing campus speech events.
  7. Seek revenues and support from the state of California for events likely to disrupt campus and create large financial burdens.
  8. Consider setting a cap on security costs for disruptive events, bearing in mind the potential for litigation.
  9. Collect more data on attitudes toward the Major Event Policy to ensure it reflects community values.
  10. Create a campus-wide event database when funding allows.
  11. Continue supporting a vigorous campus culture of free speech.

Recommendations for Faculty

  1. Educate students about the harms of hateful speech and the reasons hateful speech is unrestricted.
  2. Train students to debate and disagree respectfully and build logic and empirical inquiry skills.
  3. Encourage the campus to plan alternative events that feature multiple viewpoints on sensitive subjects.

Recommendations for Students

  1. Honor not just UC Berkeley’s Principles of Community but its mission of education, research, and public service by voluntarily balancing their rights to hold events with their responsibility to the community.

Responses to the Report

The report received a positive response from some campus officials while drawing criticism from some people not affiliated with the university.

“The commission’s recommendations are deeply considered and intriguing, and I support them,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Caro Christ, who commissioned the report in October of 2017, told Politico.

Others, including Yiannopoulos, criticized the report, alleging inconsistencies in its findings.

The report stated Yiannopoulos and fellow right-wing speaker Ann Coulter “expressed little interest in reasoned discussion of contentious issues or in defending or revising their views through argument.” The report did not include a recommendation for students to protest peacefully or to let controversial speakers hold their events.

Overall, Chancellor Christ said the commission “wrestled with some of the most important and complex issues facing our campus at this time.”

Christ said she will work with leadership to determine what recommendations to implement from the report.

About the Author

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Zach Winn is a journalist living in the Boston area. He was previously a reporter for Wicked Local and graduated from Keene State College in 2014, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minoring in political science.

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