The University of California-Berkeley’s new chancellor certainly wants to avoid the fate of her gilded predecessor, who built an “escape hatch” out of his office when sit-in protesters kept blocking the administration building.
But Carol Christ is taking a different tack than Nicholas Dirks, who once told the community that free speech can “undermine a community’s foundation.”
The Los Angeles Times reports that Christ told 9,500 incoming students in her welcoming remarks Tuesday that their “surest form of safe space” is to develop inner resilience, rather than expecting the university to coddle them.
She said the university’s theme for the 2017-2018 academic year would be “Free Speech Year,” in which UC-Berkeley would host “point-counterpoint” debates, events on “constitutional questions” and the history of the school’s Free Speech Movement, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014.
Christ told students that free speech was not an ideological issue:
“[Protecting free speech] involves not just defending your right to speak, or the right of those you agree with, but also defending the right to speak by those you disagree with, even of those whose views you find abhorrent.”
She drew loud applause when she asserted that the best response to hate speech is “more speech” rather than trying to shut down others, and when she said that shielding students from uncomfortable views would not serve them well.
“You have the right to expect the university to keep you physically safe, but we would be providing you less of an education, preparing you less well for the world after you graduate, if we tried to protect you from ideas that you may find wrong, even noxious,” she said.
Christ told the community in a separate message Tuesday that she would lay out her free-speech plans next week:
For now, I will say only how critical it is that we protect the right of free speech, that we keep Berkeley a place where people are free to express all points of view and, at the same time, act with honesty, integrity and respect for others. This is not a simple issue, because sometimes a person’s right to say something, or what that person actually says, conflicts with our community values, with what we think is right.
In a discussion on Glenn Beck’s radio program, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly mocked Christ’s ambitious plans:
“I’m sure they’ll respect what I’ll say, and we can have a very, very intelligent, calm dialogue,” O’Reilly said sarcastically.
“And that is the problem with America: we can’t,” Glenn added.