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UC-Berkeley chancellor doubles down on pro-free speech position

Following her rousing remarks to incoming freshmen last week, University of California-Berkeley chancellor Carol Christ has doubled down on her pro-free-speech position.

“Particularly now, it is critical that the Berkeley community come together once again to protect [the right to free speech],” Christ wrote in an email to the Berkeley campus yesterday that was reprinted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

“[T]he most powerful argument for free speech,” Christ wrote, “is not one of legal constraint—that we’re required to allow it—but of value. The public expression of many sharply divergent points of view is fundamental both to our democracy and to our mission as a university.”

Students would be wise, Christ wrote, to heed John Stuart Mill’s defense of free speech, which advocated “an extreme skepticism about the right of any authority to determine which opinions are noxious or abhorrent.”

Declaring the upcoming two semesters “a free speech year,” Christ wrote: “Free speech is our legacy, and we have the power once more to shape this narrative.”

From the letter:

We all desire safe space, where we can be ourselves and find support for our identities. You have the right at Berkeley to expect the university to keep you physically safe. But we would be providing students with a less valuable education, preparing them less well for the world after graduation, if we tried to shelter them from ideas that many find wrong, even dangerous. We must show that we can choose what to listen to, that we can cultivate our own arguments, and that we can develop inner resilience, which is the surest form of safe space. These are not easy tasks, and we will offer support services to those who desire them.

This September, Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannapoulos have both been invited by student groups to speak at Berkeley. The university has the responsibility to provide safety and security for its community and guests, and we will invest the necessary resources to achieve that goal. If you choose to protest, do so peacefully. That is your right, and we will defend it with vigor. We will not tolerate violence, and we will hold anyone accountable who engages in it.

Read FIRE’s post on the letter here, and the letter itself here.

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