Trump makes funding threat to Berkeley over cancelled speech

US president attacks institution on Twitter after Milo Yiannopoulos event sparks violence

February 2, 2017
University of California, Berkeley
Source: iStock

Donald Trump has attacked the University of California, Berkeley, on Twitter, suggesting that the institution “does not allow free speech and practises violence on innocent people with a different point of view”.

In his first criticism of a specific higher education institution since becoming US president, Mr Trump also appeared to suggest that he could take away the institution’s federal funding in a tweet sent hours after the university cancelled a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, technology editor of the right-wing news website Breitbart.

Mr Yiannopoulos had been invited on to the campus to speak by the Berkeley College Republicans student group.

The university is facing long-term budget problems after being hit with declining state funding in recent years. The majority of the university’s research funding – $370 million (£292 million) out of a total of $673.9 million, or 55 per cent – comes from the federal government. 

Heavy reliance: this break down from Berkeley's website shows how much it relies on federal funding for research

Berkeley research funding broken down
University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley cancelled the speech after more than 1,500 students gathered in protest and a group of masked anti-fascist activists shot fireworks at the speech venue.

The university has not responded to Mr Trump’s tweet, but it issued a statement yesterday (1 February) announcing that it was necessary to cancel Mr Yiannopoulos’ speech due to the “apparently organised violent attack and destruction of property” at the student union.

“Of paramount importance was the campus’s commitment to ensure the safety and security of those attending the event, the speaker, those who came to engage in lawful protest and members of the public and the Berkeley campus community,” the university said.

“Fires that were deliberately set, one outside the campus Amazon outlet; Molotov cocktails that caused generator-powered spotlights to catch fire; commercial-grade fireworks thrown at police officers; barricades pushed into windows and skirmishes within the crowd were among the evening’s violent acts.”

The statement added that in an earlier message to students and staff, Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks said that while Mr Yiannopoulos’ “views, tactics and rhetoric are profoundly contrary to those of the campus”, the university is “bound by the Constitution, the law and the university’s values and Principles of Community, which include the enabling of free expression across the full spectrum of opinion and perspective”.


Update: Response from University of California, Berkeley

In a statement issued on 2 February, the university said it "went to extraordinary lengths to facilitate planning and preparation" for the event, with dozens of police officers brought in from University of California campuses, but Berkeley was "invaded by more than 100 armed individuals clad in masks and dark uniforms who utilized paramilitary tactics to engage in violent destructive behavior designed to shut the event down".

"At that point the University of California Police Department concluded that the speaker had to be evacuated from campus for his own safety, thereby bringing the event to an end," it said.

The institution added that the violence on campus "was an attack on the fundamental values of the university, which stands for and helps to maintain and nurture open inquiry and an inclusive civil society, the bedrock of a genuinely democratic nation".

"We are now, and will remain in the future, completely committed to free speech as essential to our educational mission and a vital component of our identity at UC Berkeley," it said.

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