Why Banning Speakers Is Absolutely Wrong


Milo Yiannopoulos’ much-hyped Free Speech Week at Berkeley has disappeared, not with a bang but with a whimper. The whimper came yesterday when Milo made a brief appearance on Sproul Plaza, where he sang the Star-Spangled Banner (without kneeling) and left about 30 minutes later. Berkeley spent an estimated $800,000 on security for the event. Several dozen supporters showed up to hear Milo, and a few hundred protesters.

Milo has made himself the poster child for free speech on campus, and because people hate Milo, they’ve begun to question campus free speech, too. But banning speakers is wrong, even when it’s done for financial reasons, and even when it takes the form of imposing security costs on those who invite controversial speakers. Berkeley is creating a financial version of the heckler’s veto, and it must be rejected.

Why did Free Speech Week get cancelled? It’s easy to blame Milo, because he represents the combination of vile beliefs repulsively expressed and gross incompetence in arranging an event. Free Speech Week was plagued by missed deadlines and fake news, with various announcements of speakers who had not agreed to speak (and in some cases had never been asked).

But there is a bigger issue here about the principle of free speech on campus. I believe in defending that principle, even though Milo is an idiot. And I worry about the policies and practices of the Berkeley administration being enacted to try to stop people like Milo, because the threat to free speech goes far beyond Milo. I’ll address Berkeley’s flawed policies soon in another post, but here I want to respond to some of the arguments favoring censorship of Milo.

Before Free Speech Week fizzled out, a group of Berkeley faculty demanded that the university ban the event.

The letter declared, “as faculty committed to the safety of our students and our campus, we are calling for a complete boycott of all classes and campus activities while these Alt-Right events are taking place at the very center of UC Berkeley’s campus.”

The faculty letter was deeply misguided, despite its good intentions. Calling for a campus boycott with the goal of banning certain events and certain speech is an attempt at repression. (However, there is little danger that college administrators ever listen to faculty.)

The letter noted, “In fact, campus safety concerns have already forced the Anthropology Department to cancel a public talk during ‘free speech week.’ This makes clear that the administration understands the imminent threat to campus safety while also revealing that the loud demands of the Alt-Right has the effect of silencing members of our campus community.” The Alt-Right did not silence anyone; overblown fear of protests against the Alt-Right did. There was no good reason why the administration demanded that the Anthropology Department pay extra for security for a planned talk during Free Speech Week (the security at the library would be needed whether there was an event there or not). There was no threat to the talk from the Alt-Right or anyone else.

According to the faculty, “there are forms of speech that are not protected under the First Amendment. These include speech that presents imminent physical danger and speech that disrupts the university’s mission to educate. Milo, Coulter and Bannon do not come to educate; they and their followers come to humiliate and incite.” This is a false and extremely dangerous narrowing of free speech. Milo’s talks presented no imminent physical threat. Incitement to violence is an extremely narrow legal category and one that almost never can be determined in advance of the actual inciting words being spoken. The only danger might have come from left-wing protesters, but the idea that they present a physical threat is really a right-wing smear abetted by the administration’s excessive security plans. The notion that a planned speech by a former leading adviser to the president cannot educate someone is wrong. There is a lot to learn from Steve Bannon, albeit mostly by rejecting his terrible ideas. It is extremely dangerous to announce that the government can decide in advance which speeches are educational and which can be banned for the crime of “humiliating” others. I would love to speak at Berkeley about my anti-Trump book, Trump Unveiled. But I would certainly try to humiliate Trump and his supporters. Should my talk therefore be banned? Humiliation is not a valid standard.

This letter of faculty declared, “Cancel classes and tell students to stay home. A boycott of classes affirms that our fundamental responsibility as faculty is to protect the safety and well being of all our students. While we understand the argument that canceling classes might be seen as a penalty to students who want to learn–by holding class when some students CAN NOT attend by virtue of their DACA status and the imminent threat that these campus events hold, faculty who DO hold classes are disadvantaging DACA students and others who will feel threatened by being on campus.”

But this entire argument for a boycott is based on a false premise. There was no threat to DACA students from allowing Free Speech Week. If right-wing nuts like Milo decide to disclose the status of DACA students, it means literally nothing. The whole point of DACA is that it’s a government registry, which means the government already knows who these students are. The idea that students “CAN NOT attend by virtue of their DACA status and the imminent threat” is just absurd. Does anyone think Milo has access to the DACA database? Does anyone imagine ICE agents will suddenly (and illegally) arrest DACA students because Milo identifies them at an event?

If you believe in applying the heckler’s veto to Milo and friends, then you open the door to apply it to left-wing speakers, too. The “threat” argument given by these faculty would only justify banning protests against Milo, not Milo himself.

These Berkeley faculty claim: “We refuse to grant the Alt-Right the media spectacle that they so desperately desire.” Of course, being banned is exactly the media spectacle that the Alt-Right desire the most. This letter is a gift to the Alt-Right, not an attack on it.

They are not the only ones to draw the worst lessons from Milo. In the New York Times, Aaron Hanlon argues, “the reality is that ‘free speech on campus’ is not resource-neutral.” No, it is not. And that’s exactly why free speech must be defended according to principles. The cost of security, based on the violence of the opposition, is not a sound principle for silencing free speech.

According to Hanlon, “The question of which campus speakers warrant security funding is real and challenging.” Actually, it’s not. That’s like asking which professors warrant security funding. If a left-wing professor tweets something offensive and receives death threats, should the university fire him with the excuse that he isn’t good enough to deserve substantial security funding? Or good enough to deserve the loss of funding from angry donors and politicians? The moment you say that campus freedom should depend on how much it costs the university, you have sacrificed academic freedom and free speech on campus.

Hanlon argues, “When speakers like these cost hundreds of thousands of dollars but add scant academic value, the issue is more complicated than the radical or offensive nature of their views.” No, it’s not. If you give administrators the power to ban speakers based on the costs imposed on their protesters, it’s exactly the same as banning them for having offensive views, except that you’re simply outsourcing the logic to security costs.

Every controversial speaker or professor or student on campus has a potential cost, whether it is police or donors or public support or students refusing to attend. Academic freedom demands that universities ignore that cost, and fully protect the freedom of everyone. When it comes to academic appointments, the judgments must be based on academic value; but when it comes to extramural speakers, there are no judgments made by the administration about which speakers are good or bad. It is dangerous to give the administration the power to decide the academic value of speakers when so much money is on the line.

Hanlon calls for “educational standards for who deserves a college platform and financial resources.” This is an extremely dangerous stand. There are plenty of speakers on campus—musicians, comedians, and others—who don’t serve a clear educational standard and shouldn’t. And there are also political provocateurs, left and right, who add to the free exchange of ideas even though they may not meet someone’s academic ideal of a speaker. But the biggest problem with Hanlon’s theory is that puts an unequal burden on controversial speech. Since controversial speakers are the only ones who require security fees, they will be the only ones banned under Hanlon’s proposal. But a university should stand for the value that controversial speech deserves the greatest protection, not the least.

It appears that Berkeley may be embracing Hanlon’s approach. Chancellor Christ announced last week that Berkeley would re-examine its policies: “We should explore whether there should be a limit to the number of events a student group can schedule in a row, whether we should have an annual budget for security costs, and whether criteria for status as a student organization should be reviewed.”

Let me translate that: Christ wants to ban controversial groups from holding more than a few events, wants to ban them from having events that offend protesters and cost too much in security, and then wants to ban the controversial group entirely if possible. This, needless to say, is a dire threat to free speech. Suppose that a student group draws protests by virtue of their existence. Should they be banned from having weekly meetings? Or merely disbanded when they reach an annual limit in being protested?

Consider this: when Ben Shapiro spoke at Berkeley earlier this month, the College Republicans were required to agree to pay basic security costs of $15,738 in order to reserve a space for him.

In the end, Berkeley says it spent $600,000 protecting Shapiro’s speech. Milo was required to pay $65,700 to reserve two indoor spaces on campus, which the administration cancelled anyway.

These are shocking numbers. A typical speaker at Berkeley requires zero security. It is the threat posed to a speaker that leads to security expenses, and charging any student groups for security violates Berkeley’s own policies. And yet Berkeley is now planning to find ways to make these groups pay even more money, or face their events being banned.

The high cost of security threatens all controversial speech at Berkeley, especially left-wing speech. Most left-wing and mainstream student groups cannot afford anything close to those figures for a campus speaker. For example, I help organize the Chicago Book Expo which is being held on Oct. 1 at Columbia College Chicago and features dozens of interesting and controversial speakers. If we had to pay even $2,500 in security fees (more than our entire budget), we would cancel the event forever. Right-wing groups can get Koch money and other billionaires to make some of their events possible. But how many left-wing speakers would be cancelled if groups and departments were charged $15,738 in security fees for each event? 90%? 95%? 99%?

What makes anyone think this won’t happen? Do you imagine that white supremacists are such nice people that they would never try to shut down left-wing events by holding protests? Do you imagine that college administrators are fearless fighters against oppression and would never impose security fees to silence offensive left-wing speakers who damage a college’s reputation and threaten its fundraising? What exactly is the basis of anyone’s hope that the heckler’s veto, once institutionalized with security fees, will not blow back against you?

I think the Berkeley Administration wants to escalate its security requirements in order to discourage groups from inviting controversial speakers and in order to justify censoring speakers. Certainly, it makes no sense that a 30-minute peaceful appearance by some nut on a public square should cost a university $800,000 in security costs.

And it has been a highly effective strategy. People who normally would never have considered banning speakers or limiting the number of events a group can organize on campus are suddenly looking at six-figure security costs and deciding that maybe censorship makes financial sense. But that mindset supporting censorship is created by the choices of the administration, the choices of excessive security and control over campus.

So what is the solution to the problem of universities wasting millions of dollars protecting a handful of idiots from the handful of idiots who violently protest them? One solution is that universities shouldn’t pay anything for additional security. If Milo decided to speak at a public square in Berkeley, the city of Berkeley police and other government agencies would pay for the security expense of dealing with protesters. The government, not the university, should pay for the cost of policing a protest. And the cost of the police should not be billed to the person or group being protested, any more than a crime victim should be billed for having the police investigate the crime and enforce the law. If a university chooses to take on the role of policing, then it must follow the same rules and cannot bill the person being protested.

The AAUP’s 1992 Statement On Freedom of Expression and Campus Speech Codes noted, “On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful or disturbing that it may not be expressed.” The AAUP’s 1967 Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students noted, “Students should be allowed to invite and to hear any person of their own choosing.”

These principles do not permit universities to ban “bad” speakers or allow a heckler’s veto to prevail, whether by shouting down or violence or its close cousin, the security fee.

Free speech is easy when thoughtful speakers we agree with are being silenced. The real test is when idiots we hate try to speak, and the protests against them cost a lot of money. But it’s not a difficult test to pass if you just imagine the positions being reversed. If a speaker you support is being protested by white supremacists, should that speaker be banned because of the expense?

The practice of a university charging groups five-figure fees for controversial speakers is a severe limit on free speech. It is a heckler’s fee, and when it reaches thousands and thousands of dollars, it amounts to a veto in most cases. Charging these fees ensures that only controversial speakers with wealthy benefactors (who tend to be conservative) can afford to speak on campus.

Berkeley is sending a clear message to the white supremacists: If you can threaten trouble and damage property like Antifa, then you, too, can effectively censor speakers through security fees. This is how charging for controversial speakers (or banning them) tends to encourage violence rather than preventing it. The only way to stem the violence is to stop rewarding it. For anyone who wants to ban a speaker, rioting has become an effective tool of censorship.

14 thoughts on “Why Banning Speakers Is Absolutely Wrong

  1. This piece is a fine example of the dogged tendency to remain in the notional world of free speech advocacy and refuse to engage with the kinds of real questions that pretty much every college administration is wrestling with right now. A few considerations:

    1) Not providing a speaking platform under certain conditions is not the same as ‘banning’ or ‘silencing’ speech. I struggle to understand why people persist with that conflation. Berkeley ‘Free Speech Week’ is case in point: the institution rolled out the red carpet, sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into the event anyway, guaranteed security, and yet the event still fell through because of something as painfully simple as the inability to book a safe and appropriate venue for the talks. Protests aside, if you’re bringing 500 people to a 50-person room, and the host institution says no, that won’t work, are you being ‘silenced’? I’m not trying to be facetious, but only to point out that we place practical restrictions on who gets a speaking platform and under what circumstances all the time, and one would have to bury their head in the sand to fail to recognize that while A) violence is obviously a grave threat to free speech at large, B) what we’re witnessing now is a hack on the ‘marketplace of ideas’ model. Doxxing and ridiculing students in preparation for showing up to do more of the same draws in outside agitators and presents real security risks. That’s where we are, not where anyone–myself certainly include–thinks we should be.

    2) Conflating performance events (comedians, artists, plays, etc.) with speakers is disingenuous. For one, I’m on the record distinguishing between ‘offensive’ comedians and like performers and people who give talks under the auspices of academic programming or as an intellectual exercise (as opposed to an entertainment exercise, with the understanding that an event primarily for one purpose may contain elements of the other). Which is to say not all programming on campus needs to have academic value; just that programming meant to add academic value should add academic value. Two, even if we do want to conflate performers with, e.g., Milo, who draws a thin line between the two, and would likely be less controversial if he were booking performance art venues as a shock comedian, the same cost limitations apply every day in university life. Committees of students and administrators already make choices about, for example, whether to host one expensive headliner versus doing a handful of smaller shows. And when universities do spend more on co-curricular programs at the expense of the core academic mission, they do, rightly field criticism for it. Think college football spending, for example. And if you think we’re far afield from the central issues Milo’s ‘Free Speech Week’ raised, that’s because of the counterproductive conflation of comedians, performers, and ostensibly academic speakers.

    3) ‘One solution is that universities shouldn’t pay anything.’ Honestly, that’s just sidestepping the conflict I raised, seemingly for the purpose of dismissing the issue and my raising of it out of hand. I suppose, yes, we could just open up our campuses to whatever mayhem may come, and wash our hands of the responsibility to at least try to keep students safe. And then what, if someone gets hurt, get on the phone with their family and make the argument that we’ve decided to wash our hands of the responsibility of providing a safe learning environment, so that we can maintain some notional sense of free speech absolutism that files in the face of the exigencies of this poisoned political climate? Don’t get me wrong: pay nothing is an elegant solution, and I see that. I just don’t think it’s realistic, and I’d be curious whether any university presidents out there would be willing to go there.

    4) This is an egregious conflation of free speech with academic freedom.

    According to Hanlon, “The question of which campus speakers warrant security funding is real and challenging.” Actually, it’s not. That’s like asking which professors warrant security funding. If a left-wing professor tweets something offensive and receives death threats, should the university fire him with the excuse that he isn’t good enough to deserve substantial security funding? Or good enough to deserve the loss of funding from angry donors and politicians? The moment you say that campus freedom should depend on how much it costs the university, you have sacrificed academic freedom and free speech on campus.

    These are not the same thing. See, for example, Jacob T. Levy, who is excellent on why this distinction matters: http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/03/safe-spaces-academic-freedom-and-the-university-as-a-complex-association/

    I think it does this ongoing discussion and debate about ‘free speech’ on campus a major disservice–on the AAUP blog no less–to suggest that faculty speaking in our capacity as private citizens but valued in our capacity as faculty and protected in that capacity by academic freedom should be treated the same as outside speakers in terms of institutional support. What you appear to have missed in my position is that though I make the case for the problem created by escalating costs, I don’t make that case at the expense of principle. It’s just that my principle is, as far as I can tell, different from yours. I don’t think anyone who does their job well should be threatened or fired for speaking out as a private citizen, and I think that scenario is radically different from the question of whether someone should be invited to campus to give a talk. No one is talking about intimidating Milo into silence–as calls for my job have at times done to me–by not inviting him to Berkeley. No one is shutting down his voice. But in any case, my principle is prioritizing academic value and events that promote teaching and learning on campus. And that principle is not in conflict with a second principle I hold dear, that of protecting both students and faculty from backlash and intimidation.

    5) It’s Hanlon, not ‘Hanson.’

    • I apologize to Prof. Hanlon for the typo in his name, which I’ve fixed.

      1) I think that not allowing an event to take place is accurately described as banning it. I don’t know what “rolling out the red carpet” means here, but I don’t think charging a group $65,700 to reserve some rooms on campus, and then cancelling them anyway, qualifies for that description. A host institution can limit how many people safely can enter a room, but they shouldn’t just ban an event. It’s simply not true that universities place “practical restrictions” on speakers “all the time” by requiring them to pay tens of thousands of dollars for security fees. Violence is indeed a grave threat to free speech, but that’s not a good reason to ban speakers who might attract violent protests.

      2) I’m very confused by this argument. Now it’s okay to invite Milo if you merely call him a comedian? All events have inherent costs: the speaker’s fee and expenses, the standard room rental fee, publicity costs, etc. The question is whether groups on campus (unlike individuals) should be forced to pay for the policing cost of being threatened. I think that’s morally wrong, encourages violence, and suppresses speech. There is no reason to judge the quality of speakers at all under that basic principle.

      3) It is an elegant evasion, I agree. But my point is that if someone threatens Milo and he calls the cops, the police can’t send him a bill. If a university wants to be the police on campus (and probably they should, to a certain extent), they don’t get to send out bills for the expense.

      4) I am on the losing end of a long argument within the AAUP that free speech and academic freedom are deeply intertwined concepts, not completely different ideas. So I am proud to egregiously conflate them. And I mention offensive faculty not because they’re the same, but to help build sympathy with the principle that universities should never judge people based on the cost imposed by others who hate them.

  2. Frankly, it’s also pretty frustrating that the knee-jerk reaction to the argument I put forward is ‘he wants to ban speakers’ or ‘universities should ban speakers.’ I think it’s pretty clear where the NYT piece concludes that my audience is not only administrators, but students, and that my solution to these problems is to make the convincing case to students to invite conservative speakers, and more of them, who will engage with students and faculty in the exchange of ideas, and to simply ignore Milo and other right-wing opportunists.

    At no point in the essay to I say we should ban speakers from campus.

    It’s also worth addressing preemptively the circular discussion that inevitably ensues from here:

    1) I say academic value should be a more central consideration in whom to invite to speak.
    2) They say ‘who are you to judge!’ or ‘you’ll only judge “academic value” by whether you agree with the speaker.’
    3) I say, as I’ve said from the beginning, that the goal here is to *increase the number and quality of conservative speakers on campus.*

    In other words, an argument about quality is not the same as an ideological test; and universities make decisions about quality at all levels every single day.

    • I have absolutely no problem with prioritizing academic values and encouraging students to invite thoughtful speakers instead of idiots. But if students get to invite whoever they want (and they should), overruling those decisions is a ban on those speakers, isn’t it? An argument about quality is not an ideological test. But a quality test is a ban on speakers deemed not to meet someone’s quality standards, and that is a dramatic change from how student-invited speakers are currently treated. And I won’t say “who are you to judge?” but why should anyone be judging these speakers in order to determine if they are allowed on campus?

      Increasing the number and quality of conservative speakers is a great idea. But if you allow left-wing protesters to impose $15,000 or $66,000 fees on conservative events by virtue of security fees, you certainly won’t see an increase in the number of conservative speakers. And I find it difficult to imagine that people won’t protest conservative speakers just because they are somewhat respectable academics (ask Charles Murray).

  3. There is a much simpler, more reasonable, logical, and non-inhibiting way to deal with demagogues and opportunists like Milo. Mainly such speakers are invited by campus student organizations, which get money from the university. The money they get is nowhere near the amount such speakers charge. The way the student organizations can sponsor the speakers is through outside money. Solution: the university can say that any student organization that gets university money cannot also get outside money. These kinds of speakers probably won’t come for a measly 5 grand. In the few cases where the university itself pays the speaker, the administration deserves what it gets.

  4. I agree that banning speakers is “absolutely wrong,” and I have spent considerable energy and used considerable space on this blog defending that position, while at the same time exploring its challenges, tensions, and contradictions. But there my agreement with John’s post ends. For one thing, it would be easy to read this post and not realize that the Berkeley administration DID NOT BAN Milo Yiannopoulos or the phony “free speech week” that he promoted but never actually organized. Nor has Berkeley banned any other controversial speaker, at least in my memory (and I’ve been around the campus for decades), although some on the campus would charge that treatment of pro-Palestinian activists is not entirely fair. John refers to a “planned speech” by Steve Bannon, neglecting to point out that no such speech was ever planned. Milo announced Bannon as a speaker, but like virtually all other announced participants in this non-event this was never confirmed by Bannon, nor were arrangements for a venue or anything else made. It is hard to ban a speaker who hasn’t even acknowledged his intention to speak.

    The fact is that Berkeley’s administration went out of its way to ensure that this event would take place — IF its organizers actually wanted it to. Berkeley law dean, the noted First Amendment scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, acknowledged as much, praising Chancellor Christ for “adhering to the First Amendment and the basic principles of academic freedom in ensuring that controversial speakers can appear on the UC Berkeley campus without endangering the safety of students, staff and faculty” (see http://www.dailycal.org/2017/09/22/campus-abides-first-amendment-protects-free-speech/).

    To anyone paying attention to this controversy as it developed it had become clear by the end that Milo never really wanted to speak at all. Having already had an event at Berkeley canceled in the face of violent protest, he now wanted to bait the campus into banning him and his event outright. He and his small band of feckless student supporters certainly gave the administration plenty of chances to take the bait, failing to meet deadlines, etc. But his bluff was called. He was not banned. From his point of view, that was clearly a failure.

    John makes much of the faculty letter calling for a boycott of campus during the now-defunct “speech week,” going so far as to falsely claim these colleagues had demanded the event be banned. They definitely did not. Instead, the call for a boycott was an attempt — whether one agrees with it or not — to deprive the speakers of the kind of confrontation and disruption they sought to provoke. “Stay away,” was the message to the campus, both to those who might wish to protest and those who might be caught in the metaphorical crossfire. That’s not a ban. Moreover, this was but one group of faculty members, who have their own right to speak. At no time did a majority of the faculty, speaking through the Academic Senate for example, or any other authoritative group on the campus call for a ban. Such calls came only from fringe outside groups.

    John also makes much of the security fees charged to Ben Shapiro and those billed to Milo’s supporters. But here he simply reveals ignorance of the campus. Shapiro spoke in Zellerbach Auditorium, a lush concert hall normally used for performances of classical music, dance, and theater. I am certain that the fees charged to Shapiro were not for security in the sense of protection but for security in the sense of insuring the venue and paying its normal costs of cleanup, etc. In other words, anyone booking the space must pay this. It’s a fancy space, and the fees are high; that’s why it’s rare indeed to see a scholarly event booked there. Shapiro could pay the fee, of course, because he was bankrolled by the deep pockets of the Young America’s Foundation. Milo wanted to reserve not only Zellerbach, but also Wheeler Auditorium and other venues, all of which have similar fees that tended to add up. But the cost of providing security in the form of campus police, etc., was borne entirely by the university. It is simply false to claim, as John does, that UCB charges “five-figure fees for controversial speakers.” It charges such fees for reserving its most exclusive venues, period.

    John also downplays the impact that Milo’s circus had on the campus, especially on students and faculty. He dismisses the rescheduling of an Anthropology lecture as an overreaction. But was it? Now that Milo’s bluff was called and his moronic event collapsed, it would seem so, but hindsight is always twenty-twenty. That’s not how the chair of Anthropology saw it, however, as she explains in this op-ed: http://www.dailycal.org/2017/09/26/campus-sacrifices-community-safety-intellectual-integrity-provocative-speakers/.

    John promises another post addressing Berkeley’s “flawed policies,” but proceeds in the meantime to lambast Chancellor Christ, who — without a shred of evidence — he charges “wants to ban controversial groups from holding more than a few events, wants to ban them from having events that offend protesters and cost too much in security, and then wants to ban the controversial group entirely if possible.” The Chancellor has said nothing of the sort! What she has proposed is a formal review of policies governing student organizations and outside speakers in the hope that better solutions to the kind of situation Milo cynically created might be found. No one can say what that review will produce. As I noted elsewhere on this blog, I hope that it includes elected faculty and student representatives and that any policies will go through appropriate governance structures and procedures.

    And then there is John’s ludicrous proposed “solution” to the problem: “universities shouldn’t pay anything for additional security. If Milo decided to speak at a public square in Berkeley, the city of Berkeley police and other government agencies would pay for the security expense of dealing with protesters. The government, not the university, should pay for the cost of policing a protest.” Apparently John is unaware of the series of demonstrations and conflicts that have plagued downtown Berkeley in recent months, as armed right-wing provocateurs attack counter-demonstrators, only to be challenged in turn by “antifa fighters.” Some solution! But the point is that Milo did not care about this. He wanted to put the UNIVERSITY in a bind, not the city.

    Finally, John offers a critique of Aaron Hanlon’s thoughtful New York Times op-ed (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/24/opinion/milo-yiannopoulos-free-speech-week-berkeley.html). Hanlon has already responded on his own behalf, so I will simply point out that underlying their disagreement is a more theoretical difference over the conception of academic freedom and its justification. If I read him correctly, John Wilson seems to believe that academic freedom is best justified as an application to colleges and universities of a broader freedom of expression, of which academic freedom is a part or subset. By contrast, people like Hanlon, Robert Post, Jacob Levy, Joan Scott, and I see academic freedom and freedom of expression as distinct concepts with different justifications (see the fourth in my series on outside speakers: https://academeblog.org/2017/09/08/on-outside-speakers-and-academic-freedom-part-iv/). To be sure, most often these two freedoms are and should be complementary and even overlapping (although there are differences over the extent to which this should be the case). But they may also be in tension, even occasionally to the point of conflict. How to understand, negotiate, and resolve such tensions is the issue at hand.

    • The question of whether Berkeley banned Milo’s events is debatable, but I believe it is an accurate statement. Did Milo really want to speak at Berkeley, or did he want to be banned? Well, he did spend $65,700 to reserve the spaces (and the delay was largely because of a dispute over whether the money would be refunded if Berkeley cancelled the event). That’s a lot of money for a bluff. It’s true that Milo missed various deadlines, but it’s also true that the event could easily have gone ahead if Berkeley had allowed it. Berkeley had some understandable reasons for banning Milo’s event, but they did make the choice to ban it.

      On security and venue costs, things are a bit confusing (especially for Milo’s event), but I am correct. According to a Daily Cal story, Berkeley’s administration offered Zellerbach (perhaps due to security concerns) for Shapiro’s talk even though a smaller, cheaper venue was requested, and Berkeley offered to cover the venue rental costs, which run about $7,000 according to a Yelp review I saw. But the College Republicans were still required to pay about $10,000 in security fees.
      So I am right and Hank was wrong when he asserted, “the cost of providing security in the form of campus police, etc., was borne entirely by the university. It is simply false to claim, as John does, that UCB charges ‘five-figure fees for controversial speakers.’”

      Hank argues that I “falsely claim these colleagues had demanded the event be banned. They definitely did not.” No, they definitely did. The letter from the Berkeley faculty declared, “The Administration, in failing to halt these events, has left concerned faculty with no other choice than to act…” The campus-wide boycott was a threat “if the administration insists upon allowing the Alt-Right to occupy the center of our campus….” That is a demand to ban Milo’s event.

      When it comes to the theoretical divide between free speech and academic freedom, there are very few tensions—and with regard to students having the right to select extramural speakers, there are no conflicts. Student-selected speakers simply are not an area for academic judgments. According to the AAUP policies for more than 50 years, students get to select their speakers without censorship by administrators or faculty.

      • No, it is not debatable. Not only did Berkeley not ban Milo, but he actually was allowed to speak, despite the fact that the student group sponsoring his event canceled it. To be sure, his appearance was little more than a circus sideshow for the benefit of his paid entourage and the relative handful of gullible marks on both sides who still take him seriously, but he appeared nonetheless. And let’s think about what might have happened had the university followed Wilson’s advice and not provided security at all, which might well have been their right, given that Milo was no longer sponsored by any student group when he showed up on Sunday. Had Berkeley followed the Wilson plan, the property damage to the university and surrounding businesses might have been extensive, but more important blood might have been spilled. And, of course, Milo himself would have run for cover and then declared that he had indeed been banned.

        As for missing deadlines, I’m surprised that while John freely calls Milo an “idiot” (I prefer Charles Murray’s label of “despicable asshole”), he is all too willing to accept without question the idiot’s account of what happened regarding the negotiations. It’s important to note that Milo negotiated with no one. The responsibility for negotiating lay with the sponsoring student group. They didn’t just miss deadlines. They submitted the required deposit — yes, it was always just a deposit, non-refundable if the students canceled (which they did), refundable if the university did — over a month late, after being given three extensions. This is a ban? That they only submitted a check from Milo after missing the final deadline, knowing perhaps that it would not be accepted, suggests not that they were concerned about the university canceling and not refunding but that they always knew it was possible, if not likely, that Milo would cancel. Or maybe that’s what Milo knew and simply held back the check from the hapless student conservatives.

        Moreover, one can only imagine what might have happened if Berkeley had been so indulgent to a pro-BDS speaker, say Omar Barghouti. (Of course, they wouldn’t be.) The same right-wing free speech fanatics that decry Berkeley’s alleged intolerance to conservatives would have screamed “anti-Semitism” and demanded to know why this “terrorist” was getting special treatment.

        The simple fact is that the UCB administration bent over backwards to accommodate what turned out to be a hoax event; many people think they went too far in doing so. But certainly they banned no one.

        Which brings me to the faculty letter. The meaning of the quote John cites is debatable. I read it not as a call to ban the speakers but as a complaint that the administration had failed to protect the campus. Frankly, I wouldn’t have written that. But at the same time, while these faculty members might have desired the event to be canceled, their letter did not call for a ban; it called instead for a boycott of campus, quite a different thing. That was its operative purpose and the message that was understood by just about everyone on the Berkeley campus.

        As to the security and venue costs of the events, even if one accepts John’s figures (and, frankly, determining rental fees for Zellerbach from a Yelp review seems a somewhat questionable methodology; moreover this doesn’t mention security deposits), it is still the case that the far heavier costs of providing police protection for both the Shapiro and now-abandoned Yiannopoulos events — extending into seven figures — undoubtedly fell or would have fallen overwhelmingly on the university. John’s claim that UCB charges “five-figure fees for controversial speakers” is utterly false. Indeed, as my post on Sunday pointed out, the cost to the university of Milo’s brief cameo that day amounted to some five figures PER MINUTE!

        Finally, I want to comment on the final two sentences of John’s response: “Student-selected speakers simply are not an area for academic judgments. According to the AAUP policies for more than 50 years, students get to select their speakers without censorship by administrators or faculty.” I totally agree, and I suspect Hanlon does too. To be clear, I have not now and never have before claimed that student speaker choices should be censored. But content-neutral criteria governing time, place, and manner are appropriate. So too might clear value-neutral definitions of which student groups may tender invitations. Colleges and universities, especially public ones, should be committed to BOTH academic freedom for faculty and free expression for students. But, as the Berkeley Faculty Association put it in an op-ed today: “As a public entity, UC Berkeley must respect the airing of diverse viewpoints; as a higher learning institution, UC Berkeley must protect its autonomy from political interference and harassment” (https://academeblog.org/2017/09/26/bfa-campus-must-be-defended-against-hostile-private-interests/). The two commitments are compatible, but as the Berkeley Milo episode suggests, not always as simply as John Wilson seems to think.

        • One quick addendum: The passage from the faculty letter that John quotes, which says “if the administration insists upon allowing the Alt-Right to occupy the center of our campus” was clearly a reference not to the rights of the speakers but to the administration’s security plan, which would have made access to important campus buildings and classrooms difficult, perhaps near-impossible.

        • I never said Berkeley banned Milo, I said they banned some of Milo’s events, which they did. After that, the Berkeley Patriot decided to cancel the rest of the week’s activities. True, Berkeley did allow Milo to walk on campus and speak without a microphone to a few people in the designated free speech area on Sproul Plaza, because they had no way to ban it. I am skeptical of the administration’s belief that left-wing protesters are blood-thirsty criminals who would assault Milo without an overwhelming security force in place. A university can try various methods to ban an event and yet also provide excessive security for it.

          I fail to see how the words “halt these events” are debatable. They certainly show a desire to have the administration halt Milo’s events.

          I don’t understand how it’s “utterly false” to say that Berkeley charged five-figure security fees to the College Republicans when I linked an article stating precisely that. Yes, those fees were only a small part of Berkeley’s security costs, but what I wrote is still completely true. If Berkeley is spending $600,000 on security, does it really need to discourage free speech by making student groups pay $10,000?

          I worry a little when you oppose censorship of student events but then ask this strange question about the “value-neutral definitions of which student groups may tender invitations.” The only proper response to that is “all of them.” There is nothing value-neutral about banning some student groups from inviting speakers.

          • “I never said Berkeley banned Milo, I said they banned some of Milo’s events, which they did.” No, they didn’t. After Berkeley Patriot failed to meet three deadlines over a month to complete the reservation process and submit a promised deposit for two of the most expensive venues on campus, the university finally canceled the contract for those rooms just as the student group canceled another contract for a different venue. Ironically it turns out the main speakers for those two events, Bannon and Coulter, were never confirmed by Berkeley Patriot, the university, or even Milo himself. So what was banned?

            I too believe the university exaggerated the threat posed by counter-protests, but having been in Berkeley February 1 and having seen what happened at Milo’s earlier visit and knowing the problems caused for some time in Oakland-Berkeley by violence-prone “anarchists” I can understand their fears. True, there must be better ways to deal with this, but it would be both naive and irresponsible to downplay threats. Sad, but true.

  5. I intend to keep following this discussion, but am just treading water at the moment, so won’t be as responsive as I’d like. But I do want to thank John Wilson and Hank Reichman for their extended engagement with what I’ve written, and with one another, on these issues. I’ve tried to push the conversation on campus free speech issues to less comfortable places, particularly for those who, like me (believe it or not) have a strong libertarian streak. So I really value the fact that this kind of debate is happening on this blog.

    And geoffreyskoll, that’s another elegant solution, indeed.

  6. Pingback: Media Coverage 10/2/17 – Berkeley Faculty Association | Our University Project

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