As the spinning wheel of Ann Coulter’s on-again, off-again appearance at UC Berkeley came to rest on “off” today, campus officials once again stressed their commitment to free speech, saying it was the conservative pundit herself who decided to change her plans.
Coulter, known for an acid tongue and a hard-line anti-immigrant stance, lashed out at the campus. She said on Twitter she was “sad Berkeley canceled my speech,” and added, “If we had continued to fight we would have won.”
Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, in a message to the campus community this morning, corrected the record. “Contrary to some press reports and circulating narratives,” he wrote, “the UC Berkeley administration did not cancel the Coulter event and has never prohibited Ms. Coulter from coming on campus. Instead, we received a request to provide a venue on one single day, chosen unilaterally by a student group without any prior consultation with campus administration or law enforcement.”
Based on “specific and serious security threats” received by UC Berkeley police, administrators determined it was impossible to safely accommodate Coulter’s wishes on April 27 given the lack of an available, protectable venue — or those of the Berkeley College Republicans, which in February also sponsored the former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, whose campus talk erupted in violence before it began — and offered an alternative date for her to speak. That offer was rejected, and Coulter initially vowed to appear at Berkeley even without a suitable venue, and in spite of widespread concerns about dangers to students, visitors and Coulter herself.
In addition to BCR, BridgeUSA, another campus group backing Coulter’s appearance, and the Young America’s Foundation, which was helping to finance it, also withdrew their support.
At an afternoon news conference, Dan Mogulof, assistant vice chancellor for public affairs, and Capt. Alex Yao, of the UC Police Department, said the campus had done everything in its power to protect Coulter’s First Amendment rights while also ensuring the safety of the campus community. They said Coulter had not communicated directly with the campus about her intentions, and Yao, citing threats of violent protests and counter-protests Thursday — when Coulter said she would speak, with or without a venue — promised “a highly visible presence” even in her absence.
Classes will be held tomorrow as scheduled, Mogulof said.
Echoing the chancellor, Mogulof and Yao emphasized the campus’s efforts to work with BCR to allow the event to proceed, but said the group had failed to follow procedures that apply to all student groups— including adequate notice of its desired date and time, so the campus could conduct a security assessment and find a protectable venue.
“Ms. Coulter and speakers, regardless of their positions, are welcome on this campus, full stop,” he said.
Had BCR simply followed the guidelines, he added, “They then would have been in touch with the speaker’s organization and we would have had a date, and none of us would be here together today.”
Yao, saying that “UCPD’s job is to safeguard everyone’s First Amendment rights,” reiterated that threats of violence — on social media, in phone calls and via other means he declined to specify — had made that job impossible on the date and time Coulter had planned to come to campus, and which Mogulof said campus officials had learned only “by reading about it in the newspaper.”
“You can’t exercise your First Amendment rights if it’s taking place in an event that gets shut down because the venue isn’t protectable,” said Mogulof. “Everything we have done to date is about facilitating and supporting our student group in trying to make it possible for Ms. Coulter to exercise her First Amendment rights.”
“Our commitment to the First Amendment is unwavering and unshakable,” he said. “But so too is our commitment to the safety of our students.”
See also: From the chancellor: A message on safety
Watch a livestream of the news conference on the UC Berkeley Facebook page.