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FIRE Urges UC Berkeley to Honor ‘Free Speech Movement’; FIRE President to Speak at 50th Anniversary Event

September 26, 2014

BERKELEY, Calif., September 26, 2014—As the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) celebrates the 50th anniversary of the historic Free Speech Movement this fall, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sent the university a letter today urging it to revise its six speech codes to comply with the First Amendment. FIRE President Greg Lukianoff will also be speaking at a campus event commemorating the Free Speech Movement on Saturday, September 27.

“The University of California, Berkeley should be proud of the Free Speech Movement’s legacy and happy to celebrate this momentous occasion 50 years later,” said Lukianoff. “However, the university’s many restrictions on student expression are an affront to that legacy. As the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, UC Berkeley should be leading the way on the First Amendment, not violating student rights.”

In a letter sent today to UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, FIRE details the First Amendment issues with each of the university’s six current speech codes. All of these policies earn a “yellow light” rating from FIRE, meaning that they over-regulate campus discourse and too easily encourage administrative abuse and arbitrary application. Perhaps the most restrictive speech code is UC Berkeley’s free speech zone policy, which limits students to two designated areas on campus—identified as Sproul Plaza and Lower Sproul Plaza—for unregistered or spontaneous expression, even peaceful protest or silent distribution of literature.

FIRE’s letter follows a controversy at UC Berkeley sparked earlier this month by a campus-wide email from Chancellor Dirks that called for “civility” and “courteousness” as limits to freedom of expression, while managing only a halfhearted endorsement of free speech. Following public criticism, including an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal by Lukianoff, Dirks issued a follow-up email reassuring students and faculty at UC Berkeley that they will not be punished for protected speech in the name of civility.

“Chancellor Dirks’ clarification of his position on free speech is a welcome development,” said Azhar Majeed, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Education Program. “There’s no better time for UC Berkeley to take the next step and revise its written policies. Maintaining six different speech codes and limiting students’ expressive activity to two areas on campus is an abandonment of the proud legacy of the Free Speech Movement.”

Following up on FIRE’s letter to Chancellor Dirks, Lukianoff will be appearing on UC Berkeley’s campus on Saturday, September 27, to speak at an event organized by veterans of the Free Speech Movement. Greg will be appearing on a panel entitled “Challenges to Campus Free Speech and Academic Freedom,” taking place from 3:15 to 4:45 Pacific time in UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall, Room 100.

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.

CONTACT:

Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE; 215-717-3473; greg_lukianoff@thefire.org

Azhar Majeed, Director, Individual Rights Education Program, FIRE; 215-717-3473; azhar@thefire.org

Schools: University of California, Berkeley