UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks took to the New York Times today with an op-ed concerning both the Ann Coulter speech kerfuffle and the ongoing use of the campus as a locale for physical battle in an ideological war. In an email to the entire campus Wednesday, Dirks said, "This is a University, not a battlefield," and he continues to elaborate on that in the op-ed, writing that "The campus has become a magnet for groups who seek to use the site of the birth of the Free Speech Movement as a staging ground for violence and disruption."
Dirks reinforces the idea that the much publicized mess that sparked much of this "free speech" debate on February 1, when disgraced alt-right pundit Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak on campus, was largely caused by outside factions who were not affiliated with the university. "Masked protesters infiltrated peaceful student demonstrations and set fires, injured people and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage," Dirks writes. "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."
And he continues to assert that those looking to do battle in Berkeley should not be seen as ideological heroes of the left or right. "Free speech may be the new clarion call of the far right, but the real subtext of those who try to disrupt institutions built on principles of openness and inclusion with violence is only barely disguised," he writes.
Berkeley has been widely criticized and mocked over the last week due to Coulter's high-profile fight to speak on campus. She was invited by student groups, including the Berkeley College Republicans, but Dirks claims that the group did not clear the date with the administration ahead of time.
Over the weekend we saw Senator Bernie Sanders speak out in support of allowing Coulter to speak, saying, "What are you afraid of — her ideas? Ask her the hard questions. Confront her intellectually. Booing people down, or intimidating people, or shutting down events, I don’t think that that works in any way."
And the Times has a separate piece today about the strange irony of the Free Speech Movement being turned on its head and used against liberals, given that the age of political correctness on college campuses and in the media, it's been argued, has only served to stifle conservative thought and label it as bigoted.
The piece cites recent incidents at Middlebury College and UCLA in which guest speakers with controversial ideas were physically attacked by student mobs, and while some of the blame can be put on the passions that have become more inflamed since the election of President Trump, many of these conflicts have been bubbling up for years Bill Maher last Friday brought up the time that Berkeley students tried to block him from speaking at a December commencement ceremony three years ago.
Per the Times:
Many liberals denounce what they see as a growing tolerance of aggressive and intolerant speech against minorities and immigrants. That has only grown worse now that Mr. Trump is president, and people like Ms. Coulter feed on that, they argue.
The result has been such toxicity on college campuses that even conservatives acknowledge it is causing their side to dig in irrationally, growing intractable even when the speaker is someone like Mr. Yiannopoulos, who has defended pederasty, or Richard Spencer, a white supremacist and self-appointed leader of the fringe alt-right movement.
In a lighter take, The Onion mocked the tensions at Berkeley with a piece headlined "Berkeley Campus On Lockdown After Loose Pages From ‘Wall Street Journal’ Found On Park Bench." The satirical piece concludes, "At press time, a black-clad group of 50 students were throwing bottles at the bench while chanting, 'No Nazis, No KKK, No Fascist U.S.A!'"