UPDATED 10:24 AM PT — Tues. Dec. 4, 2018
A public Northern California university is on the losing end of a free-speech lawsuit and has agreed to settle with its own students.
The newly reached settlement is ordering U.C. Berkeley to repay a $70,000 payment to the Young America’s Foundation, who sued the school for alleged discrimination.
The agreement is being hailed as a “landmark victory for free expression” by the foundation and by Berkeley College Republicans, which is the group at the center of the suit.
The suit was brought against Berkeley over policies the organization’s said forced multiple cancellations of conservative guest speaking events. The plaintiffs initially claimed right-wing events were subjected to “secret” measures by school administrators.
Campus conservatives planned high-profile events, including lectures from political commentators Ann Coulter and Ben Shapiro in April of 2017, which were both shutdown.
The right-wing organization wrote to Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks the same month to denounce what it called censorship of Republican voices.
Dirks claimed security issues were to blame for the decision to cancel Coulter’s appearance and cited recent protests over past conservative events.
“As the home of the free speech movement, we fully support the right of our students to hose free speech events,” stated Dirks. “Ms. Coulter’s announcement without regard to the fact we do not have a protectable venue available on that date is of grave concern.”
U.C. Berkeley administrators charged $20,000 in security fees for Shapiro’s lecture, who faced backlash by far-left students opposed to the event. The price tag was three-times higher than the one given to a liberal student group hosting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
On top of that, Berkeley scheduled right-wing events during low-traffic hours, which were less likely to draw a large attendance. In one case, a speaker was set to lecture during a “dead” week when classes weren’t even in session.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions also backed the student’s legal battle and condemned school censorship. He later highlighted the importance of having an open conversation even if they lead to discomfort between peers.
“It’s time to stand up to the bullies on campus, and the bullies in our culture,” said Sessions. “There are radicals out there that have openly and systematically justified actions that would deny Americans their right to speak out against their favorite ideological agenda — we must put an end to such nonsense.”
Per the settlement, the university will not have to admit to disproportionately disparaging the requests of certain student groups.
U.C. Berkeley will also publish a fee schedule to improve transparency around the costs associated with hosting guests on campus.
Lastly, the college is reassessing its definition of a “major event” to avoid showing potential bias toward the views of guest speakers.