As I reported earlier, an invitation to Bill Maher to give the commencement address at the University of California at Berkeley recently came under fire as a group of students, apparently largely Muslim, objected on the grounds that he was a racist and a bigot who promulgated “hate speech.” They circulated a petition to withdraw Maher’s invitation.
According to a new article at Inside Higher Education, the organization that invited Maher appears to have been a student group called the “Californians.” And, apparently under pressure from the students, the “Californians” changed their mind, voting on Tuesday to withdraw the invitation.
But the University’s administration overturned that decision, so that Maher’s invitation stands. In a remarkably lucid defense of free speech, the Berkeley chancellor, speaking through the university’s Office of Public affairs, said this:
“. . . last night the “Californians” reconvened without administration participation and came to a decision that the invitation should be rescinded.
The UC Berkeley administration cannot and will not accept this decision, which appears to have been based solely on Mr. Maher’s opinions and beliefs, which he conveyed through constitutionally protected speech. For that reason Chancellor Dirks has decided that the invitation will stand, and he looks forward to welcoming Mr. Maher to the Berkeley campus. It should be noted that this decision does not constitute an endorsement of any of Mr. Maher’s prior statements: indeed, the administration’s position on Mr. Maher’s opinions and perspectives is irrelevant in this context, since we fully respect and support his 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.
Apparently the administration, realizing what could happen in the future if the student p.c. faction gains control, is looking into other ways to choose speakers. (Perhaps eliminating student participation, as we do here in Chicago?):
Finally, the unfortunate events surrounding the selection of this year’s winter commencement speaker demonstrate the need to develop a new policy for managing commencement ceremonies. The new process will ensure that these events are handled in a manner commensurate with our values and enduring commitment to free speech. We will be announcing the new policy as soon as it is ready.”
But of course the easily-offended continue to object, whining that having Maher as speaker constitutes (contra Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’s pronouncement) an endorsement of Maher’s views. One student made this comment on the “withdraw-Maher” petition:
“The administration claims to be upholding free speech by letting Bill Maher speak at the commencement. What the administration fails to realize is that it has turned its back on MANY other values that it is supposed to uphold such as equality and anti-discrimination. Also, having a speaker who has said offensive and ignorant things about certain members of society is not just about free speech. It is, in some way and to some extent, endorsing his beliefs since he is allowed to address the graduating class.”
In other words, only speakers having approved “values”should be allowed to speak. As for Maher’s “offensive and ignorant things about certain members of society,” I assume that refers to his comments about Islam. And that is about free speech: the right to criticize anyone’s views. Who is the arbiter of what is “ignorant” and “offensive”? Is it okay to criticize politics in a commencement speech but not religion?
Things have come full circle at Berkeley. In the 1960s the students were demanding, against the administration’s will, that the University give them the right to speak freely on campus about politics. Now it is the administration who has to enforce peoples’ right to speak freely about politics (and religion), and it is the students who try to censor those whose views they find repugnant.
Those students are immature crybabies. Some day they’ll have to live in the real world away from Sproul Plaza, and there they’ll hear plenty of things they don’t like. They’d better get used to it.