The University of California at Berkeley’s chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, said that administrators are grappling with “very credible threats” from violent protestors upset by controversial speakers.
“I do feel Berkeley is under siege,” Dirks said in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Dirks conducted the interview Tuesday, though the interview was published Wednesday. Later on Wednesday, conservative provocateur Ann Coulter said she was forced to cancel her speech, originally scheduled for Thursday, after the conservative groups who’d originally invited her backed out.
Defending Berkeley’s security concerns surrounding Coulter’s appearance, Dirks said that after speaking to law enforcement, administrators “determined we could not hold events of this kind that might attract foreign elements of this kind to campus at night.”
Dirks referenced the “riot” that began over the Feb. 1 speech by another conservative provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos, around which the university said over 100 armed protestors hurled Molotov cocktails, shattered windows, and caused $100,000 in damage.
The chancellor also pointed to an April 16 protest at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center Park. Fights broke out between Trump supporters and opponents; by the end of the night, a cop was stabbed, 23 people were arrested, and police found weapons including bear spray, knives, a replica gun, an axe handle and a concrete-filled can, the Mercury News reported.
“This is new,” Dirks said. “And we are trying to figure out as we speak how to prepare for these kinds of things, how to make sure we can honor our deep commitment to freedom of speech, freedom of expression.”
The Chronicle asked about recent security measures on campus, including a fence around Dirks’ home and a so-called “escape hatch” installed in his office.
Dirks said the escape hatch was really more of a door, adding that it was not for him. Instead, it was “requested by people who worked outside my office, because there had been several ‘occupations’, and they were getting very nervous about what that meant for their security.”
Berkeley has still not produced public records about the escape hatch, requested by Heat Street eight months ago. The university has also failed to respond to phone calls and emails asking when they would produce the records.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.