A new debate over free speech at UC-Berkeley

The University of California campus here - where the free-speech movement in 1964 sparked a decade of campus activism - has been stirred for the past month by a new debate on freedom of expression.

Disruption of a Feb. 15 speech by US Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick provoked nationwide comment and campus-wide soul-searching at UC-Berkeley.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick, a former professor of political science at Georgetown University, has been a fairly frequent speaker on campuses since joining the Reagan administration. Her speaking style is forceful, and she is an uncompromising adherent of - as well as contributor to - President Reagan's Central American policies.

She is accustomed to being heckled, but what happened to her here and two weeks later at the University of Minnesota indicates that as campus opposition to the war in El Salvador becomes more militant, the UN ambassador is getting rougher handling by student audiences.

At Minnesota, she got through her speech despite continuous heckling and insulting banners. At UC-Berkeley, Mrs. Kirkpatrick cancelled the second of two addresses she was scheduled to give.

And one speech she was to make - the May commencement address at Smith College - has already been cancelled because of student opposition based mainly on the El Salvador situation.

The outcome, though not the end of the controversy, at Berkeley was a resolution passed March 14 by the academic senate reaffirming that ''this campus should be a forum for the free expression for all points of view.'' It called on university officials to ''protect free speech on campus,'' but efforts by some faculty representatives to have Mrs. Kirkpatrick's hecklers punished were defeated.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick had been invited to present the annual Jefferson Memorial Lectures Feb. 15 and 16. Heckling by members of a campus group called Students Against Intervention in El Salvador (SAINTES) became so boisterous that she left the platform for several minutes. She returned to finish her speech, but later cancelled the second address.

SAINTES leaders admitted the heckling had gone too far and issued a statement saying it was not their ''desire or intent to censor the views or the right to expression of those who disagree with us.'' But that did not end the controversy. Previous disruptions of speakers, of both the left and right, have occurred in the past few months, and many observers clearly felt something should be done.

UC-Berkeley Chancellor Ira Heyman said he was ''embarrased that Berkeley has been advertised around the world as a place that succumbed to mob rule.'' After the 56-11 academic senate vote on the rather mild resolution, Dr. Heyman said he was considering how incidents like that of Feb. 15 can be avoided. One suggestion has been to have controversial speakers appear before ''invitation-only'' audiences. (When Queen Elizabeth on her recent visit to San Francisco appeared at Davies Hall for an invitation-only program, an Irish Republican Army sympathizer managed to get in and shout abuse at the visiting monarch.)

Mr. Heyman pledged to ''use every reasonable means . . . to ensure that future visitors to this campus are treated with dignity.'' But he indicated no disciplinary action would be taken against SAINTES or individual hecklers of Mrs. Kirkpatrick.

A committee of the University of California Board of Regents passed a resolution March 17 saying it ''deplores in the strongest possible terms'' the disruption of Mrs. Kirkpatrick's lectures and directed that an apology be sent to her. Regent's chairman Glenn Campbell, director of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a personal friend of the ambassador, said he will ask the board to demand disciplinary action, a step the education policy committee turned down.

SAINTES spokesmen argue that the university should have provided for a response to Mrs. Kirkpatrick's views.

In a resolution passed earlier, the graduate student assembly said, ''It would have been appropriate to afford a forum allowing constructive debate, which would have left those with opposing opinions, including protesters, a more acceptable platform for their views.''

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to A new debate over free speech at UC-Berkeley
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today