Ann Coulter is the latest conservative silenced by campus scolds, now that the University of California at Berkeley has rescinded its invitation for the pundit to speak next Thursday. Citing the risk of rioting and violence similar to the brouhaha on campus two months ago when a talk by conservative firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos was similarly canceled, the school said it was making student safety its first priority.
But every fall, Berkeley is somehow able to control tens of thousands of often-drunk and sometimes angry young people week after week at its football games. Cal chooses to protect those much larger events (which brought in $42 million last year) because it wants to. If the school cannot find the resources or an appropriate venue for Coulter to speak on campus, it should give her an already well-policed slot: halftime at a football game at California Memorial Stadium this September.
Several years ago, Berkeley police issued 76 citations after a football game for offenses including drunkenness, open alcohol containers, urinating in public – and sexual battery. Yet the rest of the football season continued as scheduled. And when 3,000 to 5,000 people gathered in Berkeley to celebrate Halloween and the football game two seasons ago, neither faced future shutdowns. Police dispatched extra officers, and a few people were arrested.
Coulter, who was set to speak on immigration, had already agreed to harsh university restrictions on when she could speak, who could attend, and how the site would be publicized. The university maintains that those restrictions – and the ultimate cancellation – were unrelated to her ideology, only to the potential for violence. That’s like saying “We don’t discriminate against Latinos; we just don’t hire people whose last names end in Z.” As everyone knows, liberal speeches don’t set off riots in Berkeley.
If Berkeley doesn’t want to give Coulter the football slot, the publicly funded university has many choices. It can demonstrate its seriousness about campus safety by intensifying its investigation into and prosecution of the perpetrators of the Milo riots. The day of the speech, it can restrict the campus to individuals with Berkeley IDs and ensure a heavily police presence.
There’s one other option: cancel all talks on campus, including liberal ones, until Coulter’s speech takes place without incident. It’s not like Berkeley students haven’t been to enough speeches on “Racial Urbanisms” and “Global Maoism” (two actual talks scheduled the same day as Coulter’s). Canceling them would be a shame, I guess – but it’s what the Constitution requires of a government arm considering discrimination based on viewpoint.
To her credit, Coulter still plans to speak, and next week the university may face the unpleasant fruits of failing to protect passionate conservatives who wish to express themselves. But I rather like the idea of the birthplace of the Free Speech movement apologizing to the author of “Mugged” by giving her the biggest platform it has: the 50-yard line at the USC game September 23.