08 Dec Berkeley Tries to Censor Boalt
Later today the Berkeley City Council will entertain measures to censor Boalt Hall:
Berkeley’s City Council will delve into national policy again next week when it votes whether to demand the United States charge Berkeley resident and former Bush adviser John Yoo with war crimes…. The five measures attacking Yoo were drafted by the city’s Peace and Justice Commission, the same group that recommended that the city tell the Marines they were “unwelcome intruders.” The City Council will vote Monday on the five measures. In addition to demanding that Yoo be charged with war crimes, the city will decide whether to order Boalt to offer alternatives to Yoo’s courses, so no student is forced to take a class from him if they don’t want to. Yoo has taught constitutional and international law at Boalt since 1993.
While it is difficult to imagine a dumber idea than attempting to go head-to-head with the United States Marine Corps, at least the City’s behavior in that fiasco was (relatively) harmless…. This resolution, however, is actually dangerous. Freedom of speech and liberal ideals cannot be squared with the idea that a city government may publicly disapprove of a political point of view by taking affirmative steps to sequester it. The use of governmental power to suppress controversial (even dangerous) viewpoints is a neo-conservative tactic more befitting Karl Rove than a local municipality. The City is taking exactly the kind of reactionary moral-low ground that the “birthplace of the Free Speech Movement” is supposed to stand against. Berkeley’s mindset here is cancerous, it is dangerous, it is abusive, and (from this liberal’s point of view) it is embarrassing.
Of course, the City Council has no jurisdictional authority to regulate Boalt’s teaching policies, and even if it did Boalt is already doing what the City Council is demanding. A Boalt spokeswoman has stated that “We respect the politics of Berkeley, home of the free speech movement, and their right to debate this issue. They can pass this measure, but it won’t have any bearing on the university’s policy.” Thus, I rather doubt that the City Council’s proposal is actually dangerous, but it most certainly is embarrassing to the city that purportedly is the home to free speech. If Yoo is convicted of a crime that is one thing, but as things stand he is protected by academic freedom. The Yoo case represents a true test of a university’s commitment to controversial, even dangerous, speech. Boalt is doing the controversial but correct thing in protecting him from these sort of tactics.
UPDATE: The Berkeley City Council took the far more tenable path of encouraging the federal government to take action against Yoo and declining any effort to set policy for Boalt. Story here and official video and agenda of the hearing here.