More than 130 faculty members at UC Berkeley have canceled all classes this coming week in a boycott of the far-right “Free Speech Week,” which is scheduled to get underway on Sunday, Sept. 24. Faculty members cited the anticipated violence and risks to both student and faculty safety for their decision to cancel classes.
One of the leaders of the boycott and co-author of the letter addressed to the campus calling for this protest, is Berkeley Associate Professor of African American and American Studies, Michael Cohen. In an interview, Cohen said he feels that forcing his students, many of whom are people of color, to attend classes in the midst of the heavy alt-tight prescence on campus is both unethical and unsafe.
Cohen stressed that this is not a conflict of free speech but rather of location, stating “the university bending over backward to accommodate these people on Sproul Plaza.” The professor said he, and many of his colleagues, are not as concerned with right-wing provacateur Milo Yiannopoulos and others coming and speaking but rather that they are doing so in the heart of campus, and more specifically at the geographic core of Berkeley’s Humanities Department.
“The speakers are not here to enrich learning” but rather to disrupt the very academic departments “they feel UC Berkeley uses to indoctrinate students ” with radical liberal beliefs, Cohen said.
Free speech has been an hot-button topic on the UC campus this year after violence erupted in response to the Berkeley College Republican’s decision to invite Yiannopoulos and conservative firebrand Ann Coulter to speak last spring. The protests and cancellation of events have many conservative Americans claiming that Berkeley is denying alt-right members their free speech rights—and is being hypocritical given the campus’ history as the center of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s.
This trend has continued this fall as conservative speaker Ben Shapiro was met with a riot-equipped police detail, protesters, and a media horde on Sept. 14, for his scheduled talk in Zellerbach Hall. The Shapiro event was predicted to be a warm-up for what is to come this week. The agenda for this upcoming is: Sunday, Sept. 24: Feminism Awareness Day; Monday, Sept. 25: Zuck 2020; Tuesday, Sept. 26: Islamic Peace & Tolerance; and Wednesday, Sept. 27: Mario Savio is Dead.
Cohen said the events are not only problematic for the university but also the larger East Bay community. He said UC Berkeley’s decision to allow the events threatens to attract violence and white supremacists to the area and is costly to the campus. UC Berkeley reported spending $600,000 on public safety for the Shapiro event alone.
Although Cohen and numerous other faculty have canceled their classes next week, Cohen is scheduled to speak at a counter-protest on Crescent Lawn Monday afternoon.