Thursday, October 30, 2014

(Free?) Speech at Berkeley

A brouhaha is developing at Berkeley - where there were recent celebrations of the 1960s Free Speech Movement - over an invitation to TV personality Bill Maher to speak at a December graduation ceremony.  A student group has protested that Maher has made anti-Moslem remarks on his program.  Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks has said, however, that the invitation stands:

UC Berkeley’s administration is insisting that a campus speech by Bill Maher will proceed as scheduled in December despite opposition from students who say the offer should be rescinded to protest what they allege were anti-Muslim statements by the political satirist.  Citing Maher’s right to free speech, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks said in a statement that “the invitation will stand, and [I look] forward to welcoming Mr. Maher to the Berkeley campus." The statement noted that the decision “does not constitute an endorsement” of any of Maher’s views although it supports the television personality’s right to express them.  “More broadly, this university has not in the past and will not in the future shy away from hosting speakers who some deem provocative,” the statement said...

Full story at

Dirks' statement at

Dirks' position has been supported by news commentators of various persuasions:

The current student regent, Sadia Saifuddin, who has supported the anti-Israel divestment movement, is quoted at the above link:
"I believe there is a fundamental difference between free speech and hate speech as well as a difference between Maher being allowed to express his views, and being given the honor of giving the keynote address sponsored by the university … I don’t stand for any university-sponsored action that makes students feel unsafe and unwelcome.”

There is some irony in that statement since Jewish groups have complained that the divestment proponents make Jewish students feel unsafe and unwelcome.  For example, a complaint to the regents about anti-Israel demonstrations refers to such events creating a "hostile environment for Jewish students."

Undoubtedly, there will be more to come on this issue.  Stay tuned.

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