Uncool, Berkeley, Uncool.

By May 4, 2012

Last week, University of California, Berkeley freshman Derek Low made a video, which quickly went viral, about tweaks he made to his freshman dorm room. Instead of complimenting him for his creativity, Berkeley is dragging him into a judicial hearing.  

Low, an electrical engineering and computer science major, used his skills to turn his room, a typically small space he shares with two roommates, into B.R.A.D.—the Berkeley Ridiculously Automated Dorm. The room wakes him up in the morning, turns on lights when he walks through the door, has a sleeping, studying, and partying mode, and responds to both voice activation and apps that Low designed for his phone, iPad, and computer. And he did it all for between $200 and $300. He completed the project last Sunday; on Monday at 10 a.m. he uploaded a video about it. The video went viral (it has over 860,000 views on YouTube as of this posting), and Low gained a small amount of notoriety

But the party (mode) seems to be over. As Gizmodo reported yesterday, instead of being celebrated by the administration as an innovator and touted to alumni as but one of the many brilliant minds at work on Berkeley’s campus, Low has been called to a judicial hearing due to alleged violations of Berkeley’s housing policy. According to The Daily Californian (Berkeley’s main student newspaper), Low is being dragged into a hearing despite the fact that an electrician, sent by the university to examine the space on Wednesday, determined that there was nothing deserving of a violation.  

Apparently, Low is accused of running afoul of a residence hall policy prohibiting "misuse or tampering with fire safety equipment including, but not limited to, removal of doors, door closures, and unapproved posting." 

We await the ultimate ruling, and certainly hope that the school will not take a position that its fire-safety provision regarding "unapproved posting" gives it carte blanche to demand that anything can be removed from a student’s wall without justification. While the university obviously has the right to maintain reasonable rules regarding student safety, their apparent overreaction seems so far like just another example of administrative overinvolvement in the lives of adult college students—a problem that paves the way for the censorship we see almost daily here at FIRE. 

Schools: University of California, Berkeley