Yiannopoulos, Coulter, Bannon Invited to UC Berkeley - NECN
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Yiannopoulos, Coulter, Bannon Invited to UC Berkeley

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The city of Berkeley once again is gearing up for what could be another showdown between the right and left with rallies this weekend and in September, including a possible appearance by conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos. (Published Monday, Aug. 21, 2017)

    Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and conservative firebrands Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter have been invited to speak at UC Berkeley in September, according to campus officials.

    A student-run publication, the Berkeley Patriot, has invited the three speakers to campus as part of a planned "Free Speech Week" between Sept. 24 and 27.

    UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said plans have been underway since mid-July. No time or venue has been carved out for the speaking engagements, but the school is working to provide safety and security protections, he said.

    The university, which is known as the birthplace of the "free speech movement," has been a flashpoint in recent months. Several violent protests have broken out during scheduled speaking engagements by Coulter and Yiannopoulos, costing the school hundreds of thousands of dollars in security fees and damage repairs.

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    For its part, campus leadership has been roundly criticized for its handling of the recent skirmishes. Supporters of the conservative speakers have lambasted school officials for not doing enough to facilitate the appearances, while others have asserted that the school should never have approved speakers whose viewpoints are antithetical to the campus' stated values of inclusivity and non-discrimination. 

    The school's new chancellor, Carol Christ, confirmed Yiannopoulos' visit in a campus-wide message to students Wednesday, in which she reiterated the school's commitment to free speech. Sheltering students from opposing ideas would make them less equipped for life after graduation, she wrote. 

    "Call toxic speech out for what it is, don’t shout it down, for in shouting it down, you collude in the narrative that universities are not open to all speech," she said in part. "Respond to hate speech with more speech."

    Yiannopoulos praised Christ's letter on his Facebook page, writing that he hopes "Berkeley sticks to this commitment to free expression." 

    Coulter and Bannon have yet to respond publicly to the invite. Berkeley Patriots, a group that advances conservative and libertarian thought, did not immediately return NBC Bay Area's request for comment. 

    Mogulof said that the university cannot control invitations issued by student groups, nor does it attempt to. Student groups are separate legal entities from the university, he said. 

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    "They have full independence and autonomy," Mogulof said. "As a matter of law, policy and long-standing practice, the university does not have the right or the ability to interfere with their invitations to speakers based on the perspective of those speakers." 

    He added that school leaders work with student groups to invite speakers not out of legal requirement, but because "it's an essential part of the academic experience." 

    Mogulof closed by praising the Berkeley Patriot for their handling of the upcoming events, calling them "good-faith partners."

    "They have been scrupulous about their adherence to event policy," he said. "They are clearly aware of, and concerned about, tensions that might arise on campus and have expressed an interest in working with the university to address that."