Many members of the campus community lashed out in outrage when the University of California, Berkeley College Republicans club invited highly controversial Breitbart technology editor Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on the school’s campus. When many students and even some members of the faculty at the liberal California school urged the chancellor to cancel the event, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks took a stand.
In a strongly worded letter to the faculty and the student body, Chancellor Dirks defended free speech and explained to the students why it would be wrong to take that right away from someone merely because they disagree with him.
Chancellor Dirks opened his letter by expressing that he shares many students concerns about the event, saying:
“In our view, Mr. Yiannopoulos is a troll and provocateur who uses odious behavior in part to “entertain,” but also to deflect any serious engagement with ideas. He has been widely and rightly condemned for engaging in hate speech directed at a wide range of groups and individuals, as well as for disparaging and ridiculing individual audience members, particularly members of the LGBTQ community.”
But the next part of Dirks’ letter takes a strong turn in defense of free speech:
“Berkeley is the home of the Free Speech Movement, and the commitment to free expression is embedded in our Principles of Community as the commitment “to ensur(e) freedom of expression and dialogue that elicits the full spectrum of views held by our varied communities.” As a campus administration, we have honored this principle by defending the right of community members who abide by our campus rules to express a wide range of often-conflicting points of view. We have gone so far as to defend in court the constitutional rights of students of all political persuasions to engage in unpopular expression on campus.
Moreover, we are defending the right to free expression at an historic moment for our nation, when this right is once again of paramount importance. In this context, we cannot afford to undermine those rights, and feel a need to make a spirited defense of the principle of tolerance, even when it means we tolerate that which may appear to us as intolerant.”
Chancellor Dirks further explained that while the university expressed concerns to the Berkeley College Republicans about a belief that Milo’s message is at odds with the university’s value of tolerance, they would go no further or restrict the event in any way. The chancellor implored students who may be harmed by Yiannopoulos’s message to simply not attend the event.
Yiannopoulos’s college tour has been met with tension at nearly every stop. Recently, a protestor was shot outside of Milo’s speech at the University of Washington, and a scheduled speech at University of California, Davis was shut down by protestors just half an hour before it was scheduled to begin.
It’s likely that students and faculty will still protest Yiannopoulos’s speech at UC Berkeley, but the message from the school administration is clear: Freedom of speech is more important that any students’ desire to not be offended.