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Berkeley Releases Free Speech Recommendations

May 4, 2018
 
 

A University of California, Berkeley, commission has recommended the institution either add or modify campus free speech zones, make police presence less intimidating at disruptive events, and explore whether it can cap security costs.

Following last year, when Berkeley was the site of multiple controversial events -- notably an appearance by former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos that devolved into riots -- Chancellor Carol Christ asked a group of students, faculty and staff to consider how the institution could better manage these incidents.

The commission's report offers several suggestions -- perhaps the most notable among them is that the university could look into capping security costs for certain events. Commission members wrote they were divided whether to wholeheartedly recommend this because courts have generally ruled against institutions that cite money as a reason to not bring a speaker to campus.

“The campus should not have to expend scarce resources to protect celebrity provocateurs seeking to promote their brand (and, in some cases, to cast aspersions on higher education) when so many essential needs go unfunded or underfunded,” the commission wrote.

The commission added that any spending limit might seem arbitrary, given the institution’s $2.7 billion operating budget.

It also recommended that the university try to add a new free speech zone other than the currently designated parts of Sproul Plaza, which has traditionally been used for impromptu gatherings and is exempt from most university policy.

The university could add the West Crescent as a free speech zone similar to Sproul Plaza and decide whether to keep the lower part of the plaza open or closed to those types of events.

“In either scenario, if using Upper and/or Lower Sproul Plaza requires security measures that significantly disrupt university business, campus administration should use the legal means at its disposal to direct the event to West Crescent,” the report states.

The commission also noted that some students and professors of color felt uncomfortable with the heavy police presence at an event in September, because of the historically rocky relationship between certain minority groups and law enforcement. It recommended more plainclothes officers or allowing some students to act as monitors who could report trouble to police.

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