Op-Ed: When a Berkeley Law debate on free speech got turned into a social media circus, and the ‘real’ story lost points
By Tom Hamburger
April 20, 2018
We don’t normally cover politics, but this one is so important it demanded our attention.
This week, a student-led protest against Berkeley College Republicans hosted on the grounds of the California Institute of Technology’s campus led to an immediate backlash online — a huge online backlash that was amplified by college conservatives such as Breitbart News.
But here’s the thing: None of this can be considered a serious story. All of it is just a big joke.
So, let’s rewind the clock just a moment. This story was on The Daily Caller, where reporter Aaron Katersky and I had a chance to ask a couple of very legitimate questions about free speech and UC Berkeley students who protested against conservative speakers on campus.
The first question we posed — which actually was a legitimate question — was: “If there is a campus conservative organization, why isn’t that organization getting more support from the administration than a campus liberal organization?” The answer to that question was in a blogpost by university vice chancellor of student affairs Mark S. Allenby.
In it, he defended the Berkeley College Republicans from any concerns about the way they were treated by UC Berkeley administrators, who wanted to shut down the group’s event — because then it would be a safe zone for leftist students.
That would be a legitimate concern, Allenby wrote: “As a conservative organization, we would agree that our college environment makes it challenging to attract our ideal demographic to campus, especially when a campus political event is being sponsored.”
But the college Republicans didn’t ask UC Berkeley to do anything. They made their own decision to shut the event down based on the free speech issue. And when the administration told them not to host the event, the group shut it down.
And as the blogpost pointed out, none of that is illegal. Even if it were, a group could make a decision to host a speech, or a speech the university didn’t want to host, on its own.
Of course, the administration is right about one thing that we pointed out. When