Napoli­tano pledges to up­hold free speech

San Francisco Chronicle - - BAY AREA - By Bob Egelko

SACRA­MENTO — The Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia will up­hold its free-speech tra­di­tion by host­ing provo­ca­teurs such as Milo Yiannopou­los, re­gard­less of their mes­sage, un­less they re­sort to per­sonal threats or at­tacks on au­di­ence mem­bers, UC Pres­i­dent Janet Napoli­tano says.

“If we at UC un­rea­son­ably limit the abil­ity of speak­ers like Milo Yiannopou­los and Ann Coul­ter to safely ex­press them­selves on our cam­puses, we are telling the world that we would ac­cept sup­pres­sion of our own speech,” Napoli­tano told a le­gal con­fer­ence Fri­day in Sacra­mento.

She spoke a day af­ter con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor Ben Shapiro gave a speech at UC Berke­ley's Zeller­bach Hall un­der heavy se­cu­rity, while sev­eral hun­dred pro­test­ers held a rally nearby but were

kept from en­ter­ing the cam­pus. Yiannopou­los, Coul­ter and an­other right-wing com­men­ta­tor, Steve Ban­non, for­mer chief strate­gist for Pres­i­dent Trump, are sched­uled to ap­pear at UC Berke­ley dur­ing a four­day event, start­ing Sept. 24, that spon­sors are call­ing “Free Speech Week.”

A speech by Yiannopou­los on the cam­pus in Fe­bru­ary was called off af­ter vi­o­lent clashes, and Coul­ter can­celed a Berke­ley ap­pear­ance in April, say­ing she had been warned of pos­si­ble vi­o­lence.

In her most ex­ten­sive com­ments to date on the is­sue, Napoli­tano said the univer­sity has obli­ga­tions to both the speak­ers and their fre­quent tar­gets, “groups that have his­tor­i­cally been on the re­ceiv­ing end of hate and big­otry.”

Though many in the UC com­mu­nity have rightly “sought to pro­tect them against vi­cious ver­bal at­tacks,” she said, “We can­not go so far as to si­lence all ver­bal at­tacks. We must pro­tect free­dom of speech for all.

“That means we de­fend the rights of provo­ca­teurs to share their ob­jec­tion­able thoughts at our univer­sity cam­puses. ... That does not mean we have to al­low rhetoric that per­son­ally in­tim­i­dates or ha­rasses oth­ers.”

She ac­knowl­edged that the line is dif­fi­cult to de­fine, but said UC of­fi­cials should cut off any speaker who is “per­son­ally go­ing af­ter a mem­ber of the au­di­ence.”

“We ex­pect more con­tro­ver­sial speak­ers and more pas­sion­ate protests,” Napoli­tano said. “But when emo­tions run high, when fear and di­vi­sive­ness seem to over­take our pub­lic dis­course, we must reach to­ward our ba­sic val­ues to guide us through the tur­bu­lence . ... Those val­ues in­clude free­dom of ex­pres­sion, but also re­spect and ci­vil­ity to­ward those whose be­liefs and ideas are po­lar op­po­sites from ours.”

Napoli­tano spoke at a con­fer­ence pro­mot­ing “civil dis­course” at­tended by Supreme Court Jus­tice An­thony Kennedy in a sec­tion of the fed­eral court­house called the Kennedy Learn­ing Cen­ter. Kennedy, a Sacra­mento na­tive, said in open­ing re­marks that he fears “the idea of free speech is slip­ping away from our young peo­ple” in an in­creas­ingly po­lar­ized na­tion.

“The an­swer to a wrong or in­sult­ing or im­moral idea is more speech, not less,” he said. Uni­ver­si­ties, in par­tic­u­lar, Kennedy said, “must step up to the plate and in­sist that there’s a place for thought­ful ... ro­bust dis­agree­ment.”

A.J. Sch­aben / Los An­ge­les Times

UC Pres­i­dent Janet Napoli­tano says UC will not sup­press speech.

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