January 12, 2011

THE FOUNDATION FOR INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS IN EDUCATION responds to Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau.

Birgeneau’s e-mail, if taken to its logical conclusion, seems to imply that minority groups and undocumented students at UC Berkeley might become violent if people in the campus community do not support the DREAM Act and if other examples of “hateful speech” go unchallenged on campus. While he avoids an outright call for censorship of certain opinions—such as opposition to the DREAM Act—he makes it clear that he would not be surprised if the voicing of these opinions led to another incident like that in Arizona. Birgenau thus implies that such expression is therefore both morally wrong and likely to endanger people’s lives through its very utterance.

It is within the Chancellor’s rights to officially encourage people at Berkeley to act and speak in accordance with the university’s officially sponsored moral principles. Yet, does the Chancellor really think students on his campus are so fragile, psychologically weak, and prone to violence that the campus is less “safe” when they see mean graffiti, experience racism, or hear “virulent” language against Israel? Even if someone on campus is truly so unstable and unsafe—a possibility in any institution as large as UC Berkeley—taking the steps necessary to ensure that such a person is never “set off” by speech he or she finds offensive would result in a campus that one would not even recognize as a part of America.

It’s almost like that’s the goal.

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