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UC Berkeley Faculty Members Seek Boycott Of Classes During 'Free Speech Week'

BERKELEY (CBS SF) -- More than 170 University of California, Berkeley faculty members are calling for the boycott of classes later this month over concerns that an impromptu right-wing "Free Speech Week" will attract anti-immigrant activists and violence to campus.

Faculty members have signed on to a letter advocating for cancellation of classes while the event is being held. Organized by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and conservative campus publication the Berkeley Patriot, speakers are expected to include Steve Bannon, Ann Coulter and Mike Cernovich.

"As concerned faculty members, we cannot remain silent while students, staff, colleagues, and fellow community members are threatened," the letter states. The letter's authors also write, "We refuse to grant the Alt-Right the media spectacle that they so desperately desire."

Out of concern for their students' well-being, faculty members say they will not hold classes on campus during the period of the Free Speech Week, scheduled for September 24-27.

Dr. Charis Thompson, Chancellor's Professor and Chair of the Department of Gender and Women's Studies at UC Berkeley told CBS San Francisco that she spoke with her students and they've unanimously agreed to hold class online during that time, instead of in the classroom.

Professor Thompson said she wasn't one of the original drafters of the letter but said she added a couple of points to it that she felt were important. She said more and more faculty members are signing onto the letter all the time.

The letter, which urges faculty to cancel classes on campus, close buildings and not to penalize students who don't come on to campus for a class. She said the letter has been circulated to most faculty members.

As of Friday morning, there were over 170 signatories listed.

Thompson said the letter was created by a wide coalition of faculty members and that it was written collectively by people who believe holding classes on campus would be unfair to students who choose not to attend because they fear for their safety.

After speaking with members of the university administration, Thompson said she believes them to be understanding of the concerns outlined in the letter, but said "they feel their hands are tied" and aren't trying to stop a gathering that is being dubbed a free speech event.

Yiannapoulos previously described his vision for the event saying, "We are going to bring all the people that leftist campus censors hate the most. But we are also sending invitations to liberals, too. We want debates on stage, we want battles of ideas. We want to really have a live demonstration of the value of classical liberalism, of an open marketplace of ideas."

But Thompson described how the disciplines of African-American studies, ethnic studies and gender and women's studies are especially targeted by those who don't like their findings. She said these departments at the university closed early on Thursday due to an on-campus speaking event by conservative writer Ben Shapiro.

"Our free speech is being severely curtailed at the moment," Thompson said. "It's been really, really difficult."

Thompson said some of her university colleagues have had their printers hacked and received xeroxed swastikas. Thompson also said one faculty member received a message from someone online threatening to set them on fire in their classroom.

In response to the faculty petition, UC spokesman Dan Mogulof told CBS San Francisco that whether or not to hold class is up to faculty members. He said they decide how to cover their curriculum over the course of the year and that the university trusts them to do that.

Mogulof said whether Free Speech Week will even be held is still "completely uncertain." He said the Ben Shapiro event held Thursday night was done safely and successfully because the Berkeley College Republicans took all the steps required to host an on-campus event.

But Berkeley Patriot has not taken any of the necessary steps to host Free Speech Week, such as providing payment for indoor venues and coordinating with law enforcement, Mogulf said.

Already one of the speakers listed for Free Speech Week has told the university they would, in fact, not be speaking at the event, according to Mogulof.

Mogulof said deadlines to complete the required tasks expired weeks ago, but that the university has been very flexible on the dates because they wanted to give the group a chance to hold their event. He said the Berkeley Patriot group is running out of time.

By Hannah Albarazi - Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.

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