Berkeley Reschedules Coulter, but She Vows to Speak on Original Date

 nytimes.com  4/21/2017 5:18:51 AM  3  Thomas Fuller and Stephanie Saul
Berkeley administrators had said that they could not let Ann Coulter speak because of security threats. Andy Carpenean/Laramie Boomerang, via Associated Press

BERKELEY, Calif. — The University of California, Berkeley, said Thursday that it would permit the conservative author Ann Coulter to speak on campus in early May, just one day after it canceled her appearance that had been scheduled for next week.

But Ms. Coulter rejected the university’s offer, saying it came with “burdensome” conditions, and insisted that she would show up and speak as originally scheduled next Thursday.

And late Thursday night, a lawyer for the Berkeley College Republicans, which invited Ms. Coulter to campus, threatened to sue the university unless it permits the speech to go ahead.

At a news conference on Thursday, Nicholas B. Dirks, the chancellor, said Berkeley had canceled that event because the police had “very specific intelligence” of threats “that could pose a grave danger to the speaker” and others if it had allowed Ms. Coulter to appear next Thursday. Some recent speeches at Berkeley and other colleges have attracted violent protests.

The university had said Wednesday that it would try to reschedule her appearance in September, but on Thursday Mr. Dirks said it had found “an appropriate, protectable venue that is available on the afternoon of May 2.”

He said the university would reveal the location when it completed the details. “It can accommodate a substantial audience,” he added.

Ms. Coulter had vowed to defy the administration and speak at Berkeley anyway, and that appeared to force the university to reschedule her appearance sooner than it had wanted to. “Ms. Coulter’s announcement that she intends to come to this campus on April 27 without regard for the fact that we don’t have a protectable venue available on that date is of grave concern,” Mr. Dirks said in a statement. “At the same time, we respect and support Ms. Coulter’s own First Amendment rights.”

That was still not good enough for Ms. Coulter and the College Republicans. The primary reason, said Naweed Tahmas, the club president, is that the university is requiring that the speech end by 3 p.m. Some colleges have asked provocative speakers to appear in the afternoons, rather than the evenings, to try to minimize the potential for violence.

In a letter, Harmeet K. Dhillon, a San Francisco lawyer, demanded not only that the speech be permitted to go forward next Thursday, but also that the university provide a centrally located venue during evening hours.

Protesters outside an auditorium at Auburn University where the white nationalist leader Richard Spencer was speaking on Tuesday. Albert Cesare/The Montgomery Advertiser, via Associated Press

Ms. Dhillon said he was representing both the College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation, a national conservative organization that is paying the bulk of Ms. Coulter’s fee. In making his demands, Ms. Dhillon pointed out that the university had recently permitted Maria Echaveste, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, to present a lecture that began at 6:45 p.m.

“It is ironic that U.C. Berkeley, known to many Americans as the birthplace of the free speech movement, is now leading the vanguard to silence conservative speech on campus,” Ms. Dhillon wrote in the letter, addressed to the university’s interim vice president for academic affairs, Stephen C. Sutton.

Additionally, May 2 falls during what Mr. Tahmas called the university’s “dead week,” between the end of classes and final exams, when many students leave campus.

On Twitter, Ms. Coulter said she intended to appear on campus next Thursday “as I was invited to do and have a contract to do.”

Appearing on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program on Thursday night, Ms. Coulter said she was not available on May 2, and with her usual acidity, she accused Berkeley of mishandling the situation and attacked the opponents of her speech.

“These are the people who were against Trump,” she said. “These are the people who were behind Princeton putting out a pamphlet on what pronouns can be used and young men being falsely accused of rape by these witches on college campuses.”

University officials bristled at Ms. Coulter’s plans to keep the original date.

“We are struggling to understand this display of disdain and disregard for the assessments and recommendations of law enforcement professionals, particularly given that their primary concern is the safety and well-being of 36,000 college students,” Dan Mogulof, a spokesman for the university, said in an e-mail.

The original decision to cancel next week’s talk had been criticized not just by Ms. Coulter, but also by groups and thinkers across the political spectrum who saw it as a letdown for free speech.

“Free speech is what universities are all about,” Robert Reich, a labor secretary in the Clinton administration and now a professor of public policy at Berkeley, wrote on his website. “If universities don’t do everything possible to foster and protect it, they aren’t universities. They’re playpens.”

Nicholas B. Dirks, the university’s chancellor, spoke at a news conference on Thursday. Jim Wilson/The New York Times

After the university announced it would let Ms. Coulter speak on May 2, he wrote, “I’m glad the university has reversed course.”

Mr. Reich also let it be known what he thought of the speaker: “How can students understand the vapidity of Coulter’s arguments without being allowed to hear her make them, and question her about them?”

The Berkeley campus and surrounding areas have been the scenes of clashes in recent months between small, militant right-wing and anarchist groups based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

On Saturday, the police arrested more than 20 people after skirmishes off campus between supporters and opponents of President Trump.

In February, a speech by the incendiary right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos, also sponsored by the College Republicans, was canceled after masked protesters smashed windows, set fires and pelted the police with rocks. The cancellation prompted Mr. Trump to post on Twitter, “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

Elsewhere, the police clashed with protesters on Tuesday at Auburn University, where the white nationalist leader Richard Spencer was speaking. The university had canceled the event on the grounds it could turn violent, but a federal judge ruled that the speech should proceed because there was no evidence that Mr. Spencer advocated violence.

Ms. Coulter, a longtime conservative pundit and author, has often delighted in provoking liberals with comments many have deemed offensive.

In a Fox News interview in 2012, she said that single women “look to the government to be their husbands and give them, you know, prenatal care, and preschool care and kindergarten care and school lunches.”

In 2015, she said: “If you don’t want to be killed by ISIS, don’t go to Syria. If you don’t want to be killed by a Mexican, there’s nothing I can tell you.”

Ms. Coulter’s speaking fee at Berkeley is $20,000, and of that, $17,000 is being paid by the Young America’s Foundation.

Correction: April 21, 2017

An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to a San Francisco lawyer. Harmeet K. Dhillon is a woman.

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