On February 10, 2004, Middle East expert Daniel Pipes spoke on the University of California at Berkeley campus. As director of the Middle East Forum, Pipes has often faced organized and sometimes violent campus protestors determined to prevent his audiences from hearing what he has to say. His visit to Berkeley proved no exception.
At Pipes’ address, students belonging to Berkeley’s Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine brazenly ignored signs posted outside the lecture hall stating that no banners, signs, shouting or violence would be allowed during the speech. The obstructers sat in a block, chanting derogatory slogans at Pipes, and forcing campus police to intervene and eject them. The ruckus was so great that students attending classes in adjacent buildings later reported that they were disturbed by the noise.
Disruptions of speeches are a far-too-common occurrence on American university campuses. Berkeley is home of the so-called Free Speech Movement, honored now with a university café and archive in the Bancroft Library, which is fitting since the Movement was about bringing politics – especially leftwing politics – onto campus and had nothing to do with free speech as such. The fact that the Berkeley Administration honors a movement that has politicized the university is a good indicator of what its reaction to incidents like the Pipes episode would be. Coddling of campus leftists is now a Berkeley administrative tradition.
As the national campus director of Students for Academic Freedom, I wrote to the administrator in charge to see what his explanation would be for not disciplining the obstructers and defending, in the process, the idea of the university as a marketplace of ideas, which of course is a value to which its officers still give lip service. The Academic Bill of Rights, which we have asked Berkeley Administrators to institute, notes that, “an environment conducive to the civil exchange of ideas [is] an essential component of a free university [and therefore], the obstruction of invited campus speakers, destruction of campus literature, or other effort to obstruct this exchange [should] not be tolerated.”
My letter to Vice Chancellor John Cummins asked him to take appropriate disciplinary action against the student organizations that disrupted Pipes’ speech. In the exchange of several letters that followed, Cummins made clear that UC-Berkeley would not take this action against the two leftist groups responsible for the outrage.
The full correspondence follows:
Initial letter to Vice-Chancellor John Cummins
February 17, 2004
University of California at Berkeley
Dear Dr. Cummins,
I am the national campus director of Students for Academic Freedom, an organization dedicated to promoting academic freedom, intellectual diversity, and civility in scholarly discourse at American universities. We currently have chapters on over 120 campuses nationwide, including one at UC-Berkeley.
I write to protest the disgraceful spectacle that occurred last Tuesday, February 10, when renowned Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes attempted to deliver a speech at Berkeley, but was shouted-down and obstructed by students belonging to the Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine who willfully disregarded signs posted outside the lecture hall warning that no banners, signs, shouting or violence would be allowed during the speech.
These students sat in a block and disrupted the speech, nearly drowning out the speaker at several points with organized chanting and jeering of derogatory terms and slogans, and forcing campus police to further disrupt the proceedings by ejecting them. Such was the volume of their disruption that classes in adjacent buildings were disturbed by the noise. For more information on this incident, please see the attached piece from ChronWatch.com, also available at http://chronwatch.com/content/contentDisplay.asp?aid=5925.
It is an outrage that at the home of the campus free speech movement, speakers must be accompanied by phalanxes of armed officers and private security teams to ensure their safety. If UC-Berkeley is to maintain an environment conducive to academic discourse, these breaches of free speech policy by registered student organizations must not be tolerated.
This is not the first time that these students have openly disobeyed university rules. In the spring of 2002, Students for Justice in Palestine was suspended as an official campus group after they organized a hostile takeover of Wheeler Hall, only to be reinstated one month later.
Since these groups have already been put on notice that their actions violate campus rules and are inimical to the very spirit of the educational experience, it is puzzling to us that the University of California should continue to recognize these as official student groups and allow them to draw funds from student fees. We would like an explanation from you as to why the university has not taken action against these delinquent groups. If action is contemplated, we would like to be informed of its nature.
We further like to propose the Academic Bill of Rights (text is available on our website at www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org) for your consideration. This is bill is being submitted to the California State Legislature, and is being introduced as a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Jack Kingston. One of its provisions is a policy of non-tolerance for individuals and groups that obstruct campus speakers.
I look forward to hearing from you in respect to these matters.
National Campus Director
Students for Academic Freedom
CC: Karen Kenney, Dean of Student Life
Initial Response from John Cummins to Sara Dogan
March 02, 2004
Thank you for writing. I am including below portions of a letter the Chancellor sent to another inquirer on this matter. I am also including portions of a letter from Regent Ward Connerly on the same matter.
[Letter from Chancellor Berdahl responding to another inquiry about the Pipes’ speech]
I would like to respond to your inquiry about the recent lecture of Daniel Pipes on the campus.
The University faculty or some student groups occasionally have invited controversial speakers to the campus. We believe it is important to have all points of view expressed, regardless of the likelihood of criticism that ensues from those who hold opposing viewpoints. When Daniel Pipes was invited by Hillel to speak, we anticipated that pro-Palestinian students would use the occasion to protest, and we planned accordingly.
When we hold an event on campus that we can reasonably anticipate will produce heckling and potential interruptions, our purpose is to assure that the speaker is able to deliver his or her message and complete his or her speech. We can neither insist that only those who agree with the speaker attend, nor can we silence those who attend and disagree with the speaker. We can and do require that anyone who interrupts a speaker leave the event, if necessary at the insistence of the police. We took such action at the Pipes speech.
As the Daily Californian noted in his coverage: Throughout the speech, a handful of loud commentators were escorted outside by the police, and a large faction of Pro-Palestinian students made a dramatic exit toward the end of Pipes speech. Pipes supporters often shouted back for those students to listen.
And somewhere in between, the moderate Jews, Muslims and community members said they found little resonance in Pipes' words and even less of an opportunity for real discussion.
Did the campus meet its obligation to preserve the right of a speaker to present his or her message? I believe it did. The article you attached from The Front Page concludes with the observation: The audience gave Pipes a standing ovation with loud cheers at the conclusion of his speech.
Uncivil behavior, lamentable as it is, is not a crime, nor is it a violation of the Code of Student Conduct. No matter how ugly and hurtful may be the comments of those who dissent from the opinions of the speaker, those comments are also protected by the First Amendment, and they are punishable only when those who make them refuse to leave when asked to do so by the police.
I do wish to take exception to Mr. Pipes' comments about the Muslim Student Association at Berkeley and our Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He implied that funding for these organizations can be linked to terrorist groups and that funding originating in Saudi Arabia for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies somehow corrupts the research conducted there. Such allegations are inaccurate, without foundation, insulting, and intentionally provocative.
I hope you can appreciate how difficult these situations can be, how important it is for us to respect both the rights of speakers and the rights of dissenters. We are not perfect, but I submit that, on the whole, we handle it reasonably well.
Robert M. Berdahl
[Letter from Regent Ward Connerly regarding the Pipes speech]
I am flattered and grateful that you would bring the events surrounding the occasion of Daniel Pipes' speech at Berkeley to my attention. Apparently, being a forthright fiduciary has some merit to at least some, such as yourself.
. . . I agree with your concerns. In fact, I have been in a position similar to that of Pipes at numerous Regents' meetings and appearances on UC campuses. Not too many months ago, there was sufficient concern about the kind of reception I would receive at a lecture at Berkeley that Bob Berdahl personally attended to ensure that my right to speak would be protected.
Personally, as the target of much venom from those who dissent to various positions I hold dear, I am not satisfied with the posture that is often taken by UC. It often seems to me that the dissenters are given far too much freedom to intimidate and silence speakers. On the other hand, the consequences of taking more assertive action against them are not consequences that would make me proud to be an American. Thus, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that this is one of the costs of being a first-rate university in a setting that is known for its democratic noise.
Although he and I have differed about the issue of race preferences, Bob Berdahl is a good man who is deeply concerned and somewhat frustrated about the issues that you have raised. If I were in his position, I am not sure how I would resolve these matters any differently than he has. That is why I have come to the conclusion that I have, despite the fact that I often believe that my right to speak is being impaired by dissenters. I know that the chancellor respects you greatly and has responded to you. As he notes, the campus protected Mr. Pipes' right to present his point of view, and he was able to conclude his remarks. Certain members of the audience were out of line and were escorted from the event by the campus police. Although this sometimes seems insufficient, I believe it would be imprudent for the campus police to go much beyond this.
While a diversity of viewpoints is one of the underpinnings of our system of higher education, I truly regret that circumstances in the Middle East are manifest on the campus of an American university. I hope that you will be able to sympathize with the Berkeley campus in this respect, as I know you hold it and its Chancellor in high regard.
I will persevere for the remainder of my term, which is about a year, to explore what more we can do to protect the rights of speakers in circumstances such as that of Daniel Pipes. I invite your counsel in this regard.
Second Letter from Sara Dogan to John Cummins
March 09, 2004
Dear Vice Chancellor Cummins,
Thank you for your thoughtful response to my letter. My question is this: Why is uncivil conduct like obstructing speakers to the extent that campus police have to remove you, not a violation of the Student Code of Conduct? And if it is not, under what campus rule did the police remove the obstructers? Finally, since there is such a rule, and a standard to invoke it, why do you not discipline campus organizations that violate the rule? Obviously if there were such sanctions, it would reduce the need (and expense) of having police present, and help to create an atmosphere more conducive to the civil exchange of ideas which is what a university is presumably about.
Second Response from John Cummins to Sara Dogan
March 09, 2004
This was an open event. We cannot selectively prohibit some from attending. Once they are in attendance, they have a right to express their views. The expression of those views cannot infringe upon the ability of the speaker to complete his/her address. That did not happen in the Pipes event. Those who disrupted were asked to leave and they did so. Pipes completed his speech to a standing ovation. If he were unable to complete his address, then those students who infringed on his right to free expression would have been charged under the code of student conduct.
Under our student conduct code, those who are charged have due process rights. Defining "uncivil conduct" in that context is the issue. What is uncivil to some (heckling), is not a violation of law nor is it included in our code of conduct. We cannot be in the position of abridging their right to free expression, whether we find their behavior "uncivil" or not.
Third Letter from Sara Dogan to John Cummins
March 10, 2004
Dear Vice Chancellor Cummins,
Thank you for your prompt reply. I did not mean to suggest that anyone's free speech rights should be infringed, and I appreciate that your security staff handled matters efficiently once things got out of hand. My question is since these groups require approval of the university to operate on campus and receive student funds, why does not the university condition that approval and those funds on student groups observing certain civilized norms of behavior like not obstructing speakers or requiring the intervention of campus security forces?
If the university were to withdraw even temporarily the privileges that come with official recognition, don't you think that would help to prevent problems such as occurred at the Pipes event?
Third Response from John Cummins to Sara Dogan
March 10, 2004
We cannot impose our definition of civility. If the group violated an existing rule, then their privileges could be suspended or revoked.
Fourth Letter from Sara Dogan to John Cummins
March 12, 2004
Well, I suppose what I am asking then is whether Berkeley can create a new rule stating that disciplinary action may be taken against students or student groups who disrupt a campus speaker to such an extent that campus police are forced to remove them? Certainly, by taking any action at all against students who disrupt speakers (ie, ejecting them when they get too loud or disruptive) you are already enforcing a particular definition of civility and proper audience behavior.
Fourth Response from John Cummins to Sara Dogan
March 15, 2004
That then enters into the question of their free speech rights. It is a judgment call as to what is too disruptive. Our current role does not permit infringing upon the right of the speaker to complete his or her address.
Fifth Letter from Sara Dogan to John Cummins
March 17, 2004
What would you think about a rule stating that if a recognized student organization is disruptive of a speaker to the point that campus security has to remove them, they will lose their recognition. Would you consider putting such a regulation into effect?
Fifth Response from John Cummins to Sara Dogan
March 17, 2004
The same thing applies, Sara. We have to demonstrate that the group was responsible for the disruption. That means that we have to prove that the signatories for the group undertook specific disruptive acts. We then have to show that their actions exceeded their free speech rights.
Sixth Letter from Sara Dogan to John Cummins
March 30, 2004
Thanks for your reply. I understand the difficulty of holding a group responsible for the actions of its members, but I still feel that some measures must be put in place to discourage students from acting out so violently in response to speech that they disagree with that they must be escorted from the auditorium in order to let the speech continue. With this in mind, would you consider suspending or putting on probation every individual student that campus security has to remove from an event as a result of their disruptive behavior?
I look forward to your response,
Seventh Letter from Sara Dogan to John Cummins
April 19, 2004
Dear Dr. Cummins,
I appreciate the time you have taken to engage in a correspondence with me about academic freedom on campus, and I was hoping that you could reply (even quickly) to the last email that I sent. I stated that while I understand the difficulty of holding a group responsible for the actions of its members, I still feel that some measures must be put in place to discourage students from acting out so violently in response to speech that they disagree with that they must be escorted from the auditorium in order to let the speech continue. With this in mind, would you consider suspending or putting on probation every individual student that campus security has to remove from an event as a result of their disruptive behavior?
I look forward to your response,
[No further responses were received]