The University of California at Berkeley is a place where right-wing provocateurs such as Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos know they can get a rise. But maybe less so, starting now: On Tuesday, the school's recently-appointed chancellor, Carol Christ, declared this year to be a "Free Speech Year" on campus, and marked that the school would be doubling down on not only protecting speech, but also teaching the value of discourse to college students that seem to have forgotten.
In February, campus protests became violent, shutting down a Milo Yiannopoulos appearance. This upcoming academic year, he's slated to speak again. A less controversial (but still somewhat cringe-worthy) Ben Shapiro will be speaking on campus later next month. This time, though, new policies will be in place to bolster security and event preparation, regardless of viewpoint. "We have not only an obligation to protect free speech but an obligation to keep our community safe," said Christ.
Other Berkeley events during this upcoming year will center around core constitutional issues, the school's history as the forefront of the student activism movement, and employ a "point-counterpoint" format for panels, where participants can practice civil exchange of ideas in a public forum.
In Christ's own words, Berkeley "would be providing you less of an education, preparing you less well for the world after you graduate, if we tried to protect you from ideas that you may find wrong, even noxious."
She's completely right, and it's wonderful to see a university administrator choosing not to mince words when it comes to defense of free speech, especially at a place such as Berkeley. If administrators were more fervently clear that hateful, offensive speech is protected under the First Amendment too, we might see more ideologically-tolerant college students.
Of course, Christ isn't claiming that every year can't be devoted to free speech –– rather, she's making it abundantly clear that there is, and will always be, immense value to civil discourse. And she is making it clear that the birthplace of the student free speech movement shouldn't be desecrated by violent protesters who don't understand the most challenging aspects of a liberal democracy –– that one should extend free speech rights to those you find abhorrent, lest your own be taken.
Perhaps Berkeley will, once again, lead the campus free speech movement.
Liz Wolfe (@lizzywol) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is managing editor at Young Voices.
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