‘This Is a University, Not a Battlefield': Ann Coulter, UC Berkeley Clash Over Canceled Visit

The week-long saga of Ann Coulter's planned visit to the University of California, Berkeley took yet another twist on Wednesday when the conservative commentator nixed her speech.

Coulter said in an email that her speaking event planned for Thursday is “canceled,” but implied she might still travel to the city or campus anyway.

Amid growing concerns of violence on campus whether Coulter turns up or not, the conservative pundit lost the backing of groups that had initially sponsored her appearance.

In an email to The Associated Press, Coulter wrote “Berkeley canceled” when asked to confirm if she would appear at the campus on Thursday.

She added, however, “I have my flights, so I thought I might stroll around the graveyard of the First Amendment.”

She expressed her chagrin on Twitter, saying the right to free speech was "crushed by thugs."

On behalf of UC Berkeley, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said in a message to the campus community: "The UC Berkeley administration did not cancel the Coulter event and has never prohibited Ms. Coulter from coming on campus. Instead, we received a request to provide a venue on one single day, chosen unilaterally by a student group without any prior consultation with campus administration or law enforcement."

Officials offered an alternative date — May 2 — in an effort to work with Coulter and "support our students’ desire to hold their event safely and successfully."

Coulter's announcement came less than a day after she insisted on addressing students on April 27 as initially planned. For days, Coulter had remained adamant even though university officials, citing security concerns, were pushing to reschedule her visit, and the Young America's Foundation, which had sponsored her speech as part of its nationwide lecture series, backed out.

Meanwhile, UC Berkeley officials say they are preparing for possible violence on campus even though Coulter has opted not to speak to students about immigration. 

Campus spokesman Dan Mogulof said UC Berkeley officials had not heard directly from Coulter on Wednesday. But he said even if she cancels, some groups that support or oppose her could still turn out on campus on Thursday. He said police were taking necessary steps to protect the campus but he declined to elaborate.

Dirks stressed that the university's commitment to free speech is rivaled only by its concern for the safety of the campus community.

"In that context, we cannot ignore or deny what is a new reality," Dirks wrote. "Groups and individuals from the extreme ends of the political spectrum have made clear their readiness and intention to utilize violent tactics in support or in protest of certain speakers at UC Berkeley."

He also countered claims that police backed down when violence erupted on the campus and in Berkeley in general over the past several months.

"The strategies necessary to address these evolving threats are also evolving, but the simplistic view of some – that our police department can simply step in and stop violent confrontations whenever they occur – ignores reality," Dirks continued. "Because threats or strategic concerns may differ, so must our approach."

Dirks also said that "specific, significant and real" threats were made in response to Coulter being invited to UC Berkeley. 

"This is a university, not a battlefield," he said.

Even so, Dirks extended an invitation to Coulter and said the university "will assume the risks, challenges, and expenses" that accompany a future visit. He proposed May and September as alternative opportunities.

"What we will not do is allow our students, other members of the campus community, and the public to be needlessly endangered by permitting an event to be held in a venue that our police force does not believe to be protectable," he said. 

The student-run Berkeley College Republicans scheduled Coulter's visit for April 27, but the university last week called off the event citing security reasons.

One day later, the university changed course and allowed the event to go on, but penciled in her visit for May 2 instead of this upcoming Thursday. 

A legal team representing Coulter and the Berkeley College Republicans on Monday slapped the university with a lawsuit claiming officials violated free speech rights by calling off Coulter's speaking visit. The University of California system, UC Berkeley Police Department and numerous university officials were named in the lawsuit.

For their part, the Berkeley College Republicans hosted a news conference on Wednesday, denouncing the university.

"They may have won the battle, but certainly not the war," a student said.

Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney for Young America's Foundation and the Berkeley College Republicans, also criticized the university's "unequal rules and unequitable actions." 

"This is a long game that we're playing," she said of the lawsuit, which is aimed at helping future generations enjoy free speech regardless of their political affiliations. 

UC Berkeley and campus police at a Wednesday afternoon news conference said they were not notified in time about Coulters' visit and would have accomodated her if they had enough time to plan.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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