UC Berkeley faculty call for campus boycott of Milo Yiannopoulos during ‘Free Speech Week’

Milo Yiannopoulos speaks on campus at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo. UC Berkeley faculty are calling for a boycott during his scheduled campus appearance this month with Ann Coulter and Steve Bannon during "Free Speech Week."
Milo Yiannopoulos speaks on campus at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo. UC Berkeley faculty are calling for a boycott during his scheduled campus appearance this month with Ann Coulter and Steve Bannon during “Free Speech Week.”
(Jeremy Papasso / Associated Press)

More than 200 UC Berkeley instructors and faculty members are calling for a shutdown of classes and activities when right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and other conservative speakers visit campus this month.

In a letter sent to the campus community this week, the faculty members said that a boycott of Yiannopoulos’ “Free Speech Week” would protect their students from potentially deadly violence. The letter cited shootings, stabbings and beatings during confrontations between the right and left in Seattle, Portland, Ore., Charlottesville, Va., Maryland and Virginia.

“As faculty we cannot ask students and staff to choose between risking their physical and mental safety in order to attend class or come to work in an environment of harassment, intimidation, violence, and militarized policing,” the letter said. “The reality is that particularly vulnerable populations (DACA students, non-white, gender queer, Muslims, disabled, feminists, and others) have already been harmed, and are reporting increased levels of fear and anxiety about the upcoming events, the increased police presence on our campus, and how all this will impact their lives and their studies.”


The Berkeley Patriot student group, which invited the speakers, has not yet provided needed information or signed the required contracts for the event, said campus spokesman Dan Mogulof. He said the group has reserved the Sproul Plaza steps, however.

Berkeley, home of the free speech movement, has become the national staging ground for confrontations between the right and left. To try to avoid violence at the appearance Thursday of conservative writer Ben Shapiro, the campus took unprecedented security precautions, including erecting a perimeter fence around six buildings, shutting down main streets and deploying bomb-sniffing dogs.

The letter, signed by faculty, lecturers and graduate student instructors, urges colleagues to cancel all classes and tell their students to stay home. If they choose to hold classes, they should not penalize their students for not attending, the letter says, adding that all buildings and departments also should be closed to protect staff. Some professors said they will offer online instruction during Free Speech Week, which starts Sept. 24.

“The fewer classes taught by the lunatics in the Berkeley asylum the better,” Yiannopoulos said. “If all it takes to stop left-wing indoctrination on campus is me showing up, I’ll happily move into a tent on Sproul Plaza full time.”

He added that students face more danger from the left than the right. “The only danger to students is from the far left that Berkeley has enabled and nurtured,” he said, adding that his speaker list had been leaked to give left-wing groups such as “Antifa,” or anti-fascists, a heads-up on who would be attending.

Yiannopoulos posted on Facebook that he intends a “fabulous, and peaceful, celebration of free speech including more than 20 speakers from diverse viewpoints.”In a text Thursday, Yiannopoulos said he was happy to hear that faculty might stay away from campus during his appearance.


But Michael Mark Cohen, an associate teaching professor of American studies and African American studies who helped draft the letter, said the danger was real.

After he recently criticized Yiannopoulos on Twitter, he said, emails and tweets threatened to shoot his students and set him on fire. He arrived on campus Thursday to find what he said were frightening security measures for the Shapiro event, including bomb-sniffing dogs in his building, main streets shut down and barricades throughout the university grounds.

“This is not a safe place to work or teach,” he said. “This campus is an armed military camp.”

He criticized Berkeley Chancellor Carol T. Christ for allowing the events to go forward.

“She’s the one endangering the campus by letting this circus go on,” he said.

In an interview Wednesday, Christ defended the free speech rights of all people. “Our belief in free speech is most tested when it is speech that’s odious or abhorrent,” she said. “I wish our community could not only hold that value but also understand that it’s by showing it up for what it is that we move forward.”

Christ took no position on the faculty boycott but said she was troubled that it would allow Yiannopoulos “the occasion of compromising our main mission, which is instruction — research and teaching.”

Twitter: @teresawatanabe