In April of last year, conservative commentator Ann Coulter was not allowed to speak at Berkeley at the allotted time because officials feared her presence would be a security risk. The school clarified that Coulter could speak at the University; just not on the pre-arranged date and time. The University preferred that Coulter give her presentation at an earlier time of day, when fewer students would be around and ready to protest.
Just a few months prior, in February of 2017, Berkley’s campus was host to a raging student body and leftist organizations seeking to interrupt a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right media personality who used to work for Breitbart and who set up a grant program specifically designed for “disadvantaged white men.” That event put Berkley administrators on their toes. Eventually, they hiked the fees for certain conservative speakers in order to cover the potential costs, leading far-right groups like Young America’s Foundation and the Berkeley College Republicans to sue the University for violating the First Amendment.
Nicholas B. Dirks, Chancellor at Berkley, has pushed for the prioritization of safety: “We must make every effort to hold events at a time and location that maximizes the chances that First Amendment rights can be successfully exercised and that community members can be protected.” Preparing for Coulter’s arrival, Berkley prepared to hire hundreds of police officers to monitor the campus during her visit. In July, the university gave campus officials discretion over security concerns.
The university’s staunch position led the Young America’s Foundation to claim that the school’s “major event” and “high-profile speaker” policies were discriminatory against conservative intellectuals. The university, which was home to the Free Speech Movement in the 60s, attempted to dismiss the claims, but a U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney rejected the defendant’s motion, allowing the conservative plaintiffs to pursue the lawsuit. Defendants include UC System President Janet Napolitano, Dirks and three police officers.
No Punitive Damages
Chesney did not agree with the plaintiffs’ claim that the university’s policies were intentionally discriminatory or overly vague, so she turned down their request to pursue punitive damages. The major events policy was introduced in July, after Coulter’s visit. The judge allowed plaintiffs to sue the University over a $9,000 fee charged to conservative thinker Ben Shapiro.
Though Chesney denied the defendant’s request to dismiss the claims, she upheld the legitimacy of the university’s policies. Berkley saw this as a victory and denied having any secret motives.
The University’s policy emerged as result of the major protests that accompanied Yiannopoulos’ visit. His visit ended up costing UC Berkley nearly $100,000. Gearing up for the event, a battalion of police officers suited up in riot gear, presaging the events that followed. Campus police ended up making one arrest.
UC Berkley is facing fire on several fronts. The university is also being sued by local residents who complain that many students lack adequate housing, leaving the local community to take on the overflow. With a growing population, the university has failed to build the appropriate amount of on-campus housing structures, the plaintiffs claim. As students move into homes meant for families, the streets of the nearby town have become rife with noise and undergraduate unruliness. The complaint alleges that Berkley has failed to study the effects of the booming student population.
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