Sunday, August 20, 2017

UC Berkeley chancellor unveils 'Free Speech Year' as right-wing speakers plan campus events

Color me skeptical

Carol T. Christ, UC Berkeley’s 11th chancellor and the first woman to lead the nation’s top public research university, unveiled plans Tuesday for a “Free Speech Year” as right-wing speakers prepare to come to campus.

Christ said the campus would hold “point-counterpoint” panels to demonstrate how to exchange opposing views in a respectful manner. Other events will explore constitutional questions, the history of Berkeley’s free speech movement and how that movement inspired acclaimed chef Alice Waters to create her Chez Panisse restaurant.

“Now what public speech is about is shouting, screaming your point of view in a public space rather than really thoughtfully engaging someone with a different point of view,” Christ said in an interview. “We have to build a deeper and richer shared public understanding.”

The free speech initiative comes after a rocky year of clashing opinions on campus. In February, violent protests shut down an appearance by right-wing firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos, prompting President Trump to question the campus’ federal funding. A few months later, conservative commentator Ann Coulter canceled a planned appearance after the campus groups hosting her pulled out.

Yiannopoulos has announced plans to return next month to spend days in a “tent city” in Berkeley’s iconic Sproul Plaza. Conservative author and columnist Ben Shapiro is scheduled to visit Sept. 14.

The free speech issue drew the biggest spotlight in the new chancellor’s daylong media interviews and welcoming remarks to 9,500 new students. Christ, dressed in blue ceremonial robes, told the new arrivals that Berkeley’s free speech movement was launched by liberals and conservatives working together to win the right to advocate political views on campus.

“Particularly now, it is critical for the Berkeley community to protect this right; it is who we are,” she said. “That protection involves not just defending your right to speak, or the right of those you agree with, but also defending the right to speak by those you disagree with, even of those whose views you find abhorrent.”

She drew loud applause when she asserted that the best response to hate speech is “more speech” rather than trying to shut down others, and when she said that shielding students from uncomfortable views would not serve them well.

“You have the right to expect the university to keep you physically safe, but we would be providing you less of an education, preparing you less well for the world after you graduate, if we tried to protect you from ideas that you may find wrong, even noxious,” she said.

Although everyone wants to feel comfort and support, Christ said, inner resilience is the “the surest form of safe space.”

But she also emphasized that public safety also is paramount. At a morning news conference dominated by free speech questions, Christ said the February violence triggered by the Yiannopoulos event had underscored the need for a larger police presence. Only 85 officers were on the scene, she said, when a paramilitary group 150 strong marched onto campus with sticks, baseball bats and Molotov cocktails.

Under an interim policy that took effect this week, campus police will provide a security assessment for certain large events that could endanger public safety, and the hosting organizations will be responsible for basic costs. Such organizations will have to give advance notice, preferably eight weeks or longer, and provide detailed timetables — and contracts with speakers may not be finalized until the campus has confirmed the venue and given final approval. The rules will be applied to all events, regardless of viewpoint.

Most of the rules already exist but have not been laid out in a unified, consistent policy known to all, Christ said. She said the student group hoping to host Coulter, for instance, offered her a date and time without checking with campus administrators that a venue was available; none was. Berkeley did not cancel the event, as has been reported, Christ said.

Campus spokesman Dan Mogulof said, “We want to eliminate all gray areas … and make sure there’s clarity about what people need to do so we can help support safe and secure events.”

The campus is accepting public comments on the interim policy until Oct 31.

Christ’s focus on free speech heartened Alex Nguyen, a sophomore studying molecular cellular biology. She said she took the issue especially to heart because her parents were born in Vietnam, where criticizing the government could lead to imprisonment.

“I want her to really protect free speech because there’s really high political tensions here,” Nguyen said of the chancellor. “We’re at the university to learn new things and disprove our ideas.”


‘Stress Reduction Policies’ Let Students Choose Their Own Grades

A professor at the University of Georgia created a “Stress Reduction Policy” that allows students who feel “unduly stressed” to choose their own grades, according to a Monday report.

Richard Watson incorporated the policy into two business courses, Campus Reform reported. The syllabi have since been updated to remove the policy, but an archived version of one is available.

“If you feel unduly stressed by a grade for any assessable [sic] material or the overall course, you can email the instructor indicating what grade you think is appropriate, and it will be so changed,” Watson said in a syllabus revised Friday for MIST 4610: Data Management. “No explanation is required, but it is requested that you consider waiting 24 hours before emailing the instructor.”

The “Stress Reduction Policy” also states that students may leave group work whenever they desire and choose to have their grade not reflect that segment of the course. All exams will be open-book.

“Only positive comments about presentations will be given in class,” the policy continues. “Comments designed to improve future presentations will be communicated by email.”

“While this policy might hinder the development of group skills and mastery of the class material, ultimately these are [a student’s] responsibility,” Watson states in the policy. “I will provide every opportunity for you to gain high level mastery.”

MIST 4550/6550: Energy Informatics, another course taught by the professor, apparently also had the policy, according to Campus Reform. However, both course syllabi were updated Aug. 8 with the policy removed.

Watson is the J. Rex Fuqua distinguished chair for internet strategy at the University of Georgia.

“The University of Georgia applies very high standards in its curricular delivery, including a university-wide policy that mandates all faculty employ a grading system based on transparent and pre-defined coursework,” the University of Georgia said in a statement. The university noted that the professor had removed the policy from the syllabus.

Watson did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.


This Nationwide Program Is Teaching Millions of Students to Become Leftist Snowflakes

Parents beware: A program called Challenge Day that applauds a culture of victimhood is planting the leftist agenda into young minds under the guise of anti-bullying education.

The program uses the power of peer pressure and groupthink to impress upon high school students the idea that everyone is a victim.

Challenge Day is no small initiative. According to the program’s website, it has been held at more than 2,200 high schools nationwide and reached millions of students.

Challenge Day purports to teach tolerance and acceptance, yet nearly every member of its board of directors and Global Leadership Council is politically left of center.

Of the 17 members of Challenge Day’s board of directors, 15 openly support leftist leaders and causes, and two have an unknown affiliation, according to Federal Election Commission records and personal social media accounts. Of their 22-person Global Leadership Council, 17 of the members support leftist leaders and causes.

This is an organization that preaches diversity but is not politically diverse itself.

The most concerning member of Challenge Day’s global governing board? The former “green-jobs czar” under President Barack Obama, Van Jones.

While Jones was in jail after a mass arrest, according to the East Bay Express, he said, “I met all these young radical people of color—I mean really radical, communists and anarchists. And it was, like, ‘This is what I need to be a part of.’”

When in high school, I myself participated in Challenge Day. At 16 years old, I was a junior at Grosse Pointe North High School, a public school outside Detroit.

I was asked to step forward if I were ever called a bad kid, tried to run away, isolated myself, was made fun of by someone I trusted, or felt as if I were treated differently because of my skin color.

Approximately 100 of my peers joined me in this exercise. During this session, I felt pressured to cry, and if I didn’t cry I was made to feel heartless. Whenever someone burst out in tears, we were asked to raise our hands in unity with our hands in a “love gesture.”

In truth, it felt like an initiation ceremony for a cult.

Everyone was asked to confess their challenges. At that age, I learned to move on from my struggles and show strength when faced with adversity. Yet, I felt compelled to come up with something to say with a tear in my eye.

It felt “cool” to be a victim and to cry during public “apologies.”

During the exercise, I finally came up with an experience that fit the program’s conception of victimhood. On Election Day in 2012, I wore a “Mitt Romney for President” T-shirt to school.

In a discussion about the election, one of the students sitting next to me in class opined that those who refused to support Obama were racist.

So, at Challenge Day when asked to step forward if I had been treated differently because of my skin color, I did. Yet, students did not display the “love gesture.” Instead, I was met with blank stares.

Perhaps I would have been better off apologizing for my sex or my skin color.

Although schools often ask for the permission of parents before students participate, the program largely leaves parents out of the equation and often unaware of the curriculum of the program, or what their children say that day.

Organizers do not apprise parents of any identified problems and, as a result, parents may not know if their children need actual professional help.

Recently, Challenge Day’s leftist indoctrination became even more apparent.

After the election of President Donald Trump, the organization released a statement on its website implying that Trump is a bully, noting, “Since the election, reports have arisen of young people on campuses all over the United States who do not feel safe on campus due to acts of violence, bullying, racism and intimidation.”

Challenge Day conveniently left out the fact that the president has encouraged no such behavior and that many of these reports have been proven false.

Furthermore, the organization forgets the countless reports of violence against conservative students, including the violent riots at the University of California, Berkeley when conservatives attempted to speak there, the left-driven riots and arson during Trump’s inauguration, and the anti-Trump May Day demonstrations in Portland, Oregon.

In the same statement, Challenge Day’s endorsement of the politics of privilege becomes more apparent. It said: “We stand in solidarity with all of our communities; from the marginalized to those who have privilege and are committed as allies.”

Challenge Day even released a “Post-Election Kindness Grant.” The grant goes to schools that “have experienced post-election bullying” and want to participate in Challenge Day programs.

It must think the general public is naïve when it says that the grant is not driven by a leftist agenda. From my research, Challenge Day’s “post-election” statement and grant were not issued after previous elections.

If a school doesn’t receive a “Post-Election Kindness Grant,” it can always rely on the taxpayer. According to Challenge Day’s website, schools “have used a variety of federal, state, and foundation grants to pay for Challenge Day programs.”

According to its website, “Common grants include School Climate Transformation Grants, GEAR UP, TRIO programs including Upward Bound, i3 Grants, School Improvement Grants, and Title 1 funding, among others.”

Yes, the taxpayer is footing the bill for additional leftist indoctrination programs in high schools.

No longer are young people taught to find the good in people and society, to be optimistic, to be self-reliant, to be hopeful, and to have good relationships with their families.

Programs like Challenge Day teach students to find divisions constantly: Everyone and everything is racist, poses a direct threat to their safety, or is the product of some form of social privilege.

Instead of teaching resilience, respect, and independence, students are taught to break down and cry, discuss their feelings, and check their social “privilege.”

Want to end bullying? Teach the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Or, teach the great commandment: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” That’s all you need.

The kind of victimhood culture that Challenge Day promotes has devastating consequences for our society. This is particularly the case when students become adults who are unable to recognize the importance of free speech and individual responsibility.

If Challenge Day is coming to your child’s school, hold the school’s leadership accountable. Ask how the program is funded or if a comparable program promoting individual responsibility and traditional values is offered.

Also, the Department of Education should ensure that federal funds no longer finance programs with such fractious ideological agendas.

Until students, parents, educators, and public policy leaders take action against snowflake-producing programs such as Challenge Day, our society will continue down this perilous path of political correctness and national division.


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