Update, 4:20 p.m. UC Berkeley has now said it will ensure that Ben Shapiro can speak on campus on Sept. 14, the date originally requested by the Berkeley College Republicans.
The only large venues available that day typically require fees to use, but new Chancellor Carol Christ decided Thursday to offer them free of cost to the student group, “in the context of her commitment to free speech,” said spokesman Dan Mogulof. He declined to name the venues.
“At this point it is not a matter of if Shapiro will come on 14th,” but only a question of exactly where and at what time, he said. Those details will be worked out with the College Republicans.
“We hope they respond as soon as possible to our repeated invitations to come sit down,” he said.
Original story, 3:15 p.m. UC Berkeley has again said it cannot host a conservative speaker on the date requested by a student group, stoking the students’ belief that the university is suppressing their freedom of speech. The development follows the release of UC Berkeley’s draft policy governing how and when students can request to hold large speaking events.
Earlier this month, the Berkeley College Republicans (BCR) and sponsor Young America’s Foundation (YAF) asked the university if they could reserve a 500-person venue for controversial writer Ben Shapiro on the evening of Sept. 14. This week, Cal officials said that “despite extensive efforts,” they were unable to identify a spot that met those requirements.
Instead, Cal’s Division of Student Affairs said in an email to BCR that the university has tentatively reserved multiple other venues — large ones on other dates, and smaller ones on the requested date — for Shapiro. But first, the email said, BCR must meet with UCPD to provide details needed for a security review.
“There exists a possibility that the security review will result in recommendations from UPD that would preclude the use of some of these venues and/or might rule out certain hours for the event,” the email said. “We want to stress that the outcome of these UCPD security reviews are not based on a speaker’s perspective or those of the hosting organization, but reflect the police department’s professional assessment of the likelihood that unlawful efforts could disrupt or shut down the event.”
UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said the place and time ultimately offered depends in part on whether the students are willing to use a venue with a fee. He said it is customary for student groups to hash out these details with the campus before extending an invitation to a speaker.
To the students involved, the chain of events feels frustratingly familiar. In April, BCR and YAF invited polarizing speaker Ann Coulter to Cal, but were told the time and date they had picked were untenable due to security concerns. The alternate date proposed by the university, during “Dead Week” on campus, struck them as an intentional blow to their plans.
“Using ridiculous pretexts to keep conservatives from speaking is unsurprising but disappointing,” said Shapiro in a YAF press release Wednesday. “We’ll find a way to get this event done, and UC Berkeley has a moral and legal obligation to ensure we do so.”
Mogulof said he too feels “confident we can work this out.”
The tensions between the university and the conservative students can be traced back to far-right icon Milo Yiannopoulos’ planned speaking event on campus in February, which was met with violent protests and shut down. BCR’s plan to bring conservative writer David Horowitz to campus also crumbled when the group refused to meet the restrictions Cal placed on where and when it could happen. After the university tried to reschedule the Coulter event, the speaker and her supporters indicated they were coming on the original date anyway. UCPD came out in full force, but the related rallies were mostly off-campus and peaceful, as few counter-deomonstrators showed up.
New UC Berkeley event policy
The struggle between the students and administrators has inspired a range of reactions. Some say the university’s restrictions blatantly prevent students with minority political views from exercising their free speech rights. Others say a small student group is demanding attention and monopolizing resources, while Cal is acting to protect the community from violence.
BCR and YAF filed a lawsuit against UC Berkeley in April, alleging Cal violated the First Amendment by effectively canceling the Coulter and Horowitz events. UC Berkeley responded in June, saying the suit was unfounded and that officials would seek community input on a clearer campus speaker policy.
The draft of the policy, governing student use of campus facilities, was released earlier this month. It is designed to communicate the parameters to student groups who want to host large events, while addressing security concerns and minimizing headaches for the university.
The new document clarifies existing rules, streamlines current policies and introduces new details — including a strict timeline students must adhere to in order to schedule an event.
The draft policy directs groups to reserve a facility, and in some cases request a security assessment, at least eight weeks before an event. If UCPD finds there are significant security needs, the student group must meet with the department at least six weeks before the event. Student groups must agree to cover the security costs, but the fees will not be based on the speakers’ viewpoints or anticipated protests, the policy says.
There are other deadlines for submitting publicity materials for campus review and acquiring event insurance. The university would attempt to approve events two weeks in advance if the organizers have followed these rules, the draft policy says.
After feedback is collected from “campus stakeholders,” the policy will go into effect on an interim basis in mid-August. There will be a public comment period in October before the policy is officially implemented in early 2018.
Any events held in the fall, including the potential Shapiro appearance, would be subject to the interim policy.
Naweed Tahmas, a BCR spokesman, said the group requested a 500-person venue in the evening for the Shapiro event because he typically gets large audiences when he comes to college campuses.
“Given the current conservative void on campus, the UC Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation aim to make this event accessible to as many students as possible,” Tahmas said in an email.