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The University of California, Berkeley. (David Litman/Shutterstock.com)

UC Berkeley will host Ben Shapiro event, pay fees after College Republicans accuse university of censorship

By July 20, 2017

The University of California, Berkeley has confirmed to FIRE it will host an on-campus event sponsored by the Berkeley College Republicans featuring conservative commentator Ben Shapiro on September 14 at 7 p.m. — even if the university has to foot the bill.

“It’s clear that we have a number of workable options,” said Dan Mogulof, Berkeley’s assistant vice chancellor for public affairs. “This event is going to happen. We just need to sit down with the College Republicans to talk through the details.”

He said it was unclear whether the Berkeley College Republicans had been informed of the news.

Berkeley initially said it could not accommodate the College Republicans’ specific request for a free, centrally located, 500-seat campus venue, at the requested date and time, noting that the College Republicans didn’t follow the rules by pre-booking Shapiro before they asked whether the university had a room available. Berkeley, however, says they left the door open for negotiations.

“We didn’t have any options in terms of the spaces available free of charge,” Mogulof told FIRE, but “because of the extent of our commitment to free speech, the campus will help fund any fees associated with hosting this event if need be.”

A press release published yesterday by the Young America’s Foundation, which has been working with the College Republicans to bring speakers to campus, called “Berkeley’s inability to find a lecture hall more than two months in advance […] laughable.”

Berkeley told FIRE that rooms meeting the group’s precise specifications were unavailable, but wouldn’t reveal more.

“We’re not going to release the names of other groups who’ve booked these events,” Mogulof said. “There’s no reason to drag other groups into this news frenzy.”

Berkeley did provide FIRE with what it says is an “unedited” email chain, detailing correspondence between student affairs administrators and the Berkeley College Republicans. (The names of the correspondents had been redacted.)

According to the document, a member of the Berkeley College Republicans first contacted Berkeley’s Division of Student Affairs on July 10, stating that Shapiro had been invited and requesting a venue:

We request a room for him to speak in that can accommodate 500 in the main campus area (near the center of campus) at 7 P.M. This date is nearly ten weeks away from today, which should give the University plenty of time to work with us to identify an appropriate space in the next two weeks so that we can properly publicize the location and other details of this planned event…

Berkeley responded that such a room was unavailable and suggested several daytime options that would otherwise meet the College Republicans’ requirements:

Because Mr. Shapiro is welcome on our campus, and we are committed to supporting his, and your, rights to free speech, we very much hope that the BCR and Mr. Shapiro can be flexible when it comes to the timing and location criteria you initially established. In that context we have tentatively reserved a few venues on BCR’s behalf that can be discussed as part of the event’s security review. These venues include smaller spaces on the date requested and larger venues on other dates in September.

The administrator also requested a meeting with the College Republicans to work out further details.

After a much-publicized debacle earlier this year over Berkeley’s shutdown of a College Republicans-sponsored speech by Ann Coulter amid threats of violence, Mogulof said the university is committed to  facilitating speakers’ appearance on campus.

Given that recent history, Mogulof said Berkeley went above and beyond to accommodate the College Republicans’ request, and accused the group of not working with the school in good faith to “score points” in the media. He said he hopes groups like the College Republicans will try to work in earnest with administrators first.

“To have successful event planning,” he said, “we really need to talk through the details.”

Earlier today, Ben Shapiro told FIRE that he and the College Republicans were hoping to do just that.

“We’re pushing Berkeley to explain who has booked all of the rooms on that date, and provide alternative dates and/or venues,” Shapiro wrote to FIRE in an email. “They need to make this right. If they don’t, we’ll start thinking about other options.”

Shapiro also confirmed that he will discuss this most recent experience with Berkeley when he testifies about campus free speech issues before Congress next week.

“Of course I’ll bring this up in my testimony,” he said.

Correction: 5:13 p.m. EDT 

An earlier version of this article stated that Berkeley initially issued a “denial” of the College Republicans’ request. Language has been updated to clarify that Berkeley offered to negotiate the terms of the event.

Schools: University of California, Berkeley