News & Politics

Robert Reich: Berkeley Protesters Don't Get It About Free Speech

How can students understand the vapidity of Ann Coulter's arguments if they won't let her make them?

Photo Credit: ATIS547 / Flickr

Today, officials at the University of California, Berkeley, where I’m a professor, canceled a planned speech by Ann Coulter, citing safety concerns.

In a letter to a campus Republican group that invited Coulter to speak, university officials said that they made the decision to cancel Coulter’s appearance after assessing the violence that flared on campus in February, when the same college Republican group invited right-wing provocateur and Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos to speak.

This is a grave mistake. Coulter should be allowed to speak. 

How can students understand the vapidity of Coulter’s arguments without being allowed to hear her make them, and question her about them?

It’s one thing to cancel an address at the last moment because university and local police are not prepared to contain violence – as occurred, sadly, with Yiannopoulos. It’s another thing entirely to cancel an address before it is given, when police have adequate time to prepare for such eventualities.

Free speech is what universities are all about. If universities don’t do everything possible to foster and protect it, they aren’t universities. They’re playpens.

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Reich's documentary, "Saving Capitalism," is streaming on Netflix. His latest book, "The Common Good," is available in bookstores now.