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UC Berkeley, conservative groups reach deal in speech suit

December 4, 2018
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FILE - In this April 21, 2017, file photo, a leaflet is seen stapled to a message board near Sproul Hall on the University of California at Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif. The University of California, Berkeley has agreed to consider changes to its policy on major campus events as part of a settlement in a lawsuit over student access to conservative speakers. The university and one of the groups that filed the lawsuit, the Young America's Foundation, announced the settlement on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, but disagreed on its scope. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The University of California, Berkeley agreed to consider changes to its policy on major campus events as part of a settlement announced Monday in a lawsuit over student access to conservative speakers.

The university and one of the groups that filed the lawsuit, the Young America’s Foundation, however, disagreed on the scope of the deal.

UC Berkeley described the proposed changes in a statement as “non-substantive,” and said the plaintiffs’ claims that university officials discriminated against conservative speakers was completely unsubstantiated.

“Given that this outcome is all but indistinguishable from what a courtroom victory would have looked like, we see this as the least expensive path to successful resolution of this lawsuit,” said Dan Mogulof, a spokesman for the university.

Young America’s Foundation highlighted that the university had agreed to pay plaintiffs $70,000 in attorneys’ fees. It said the settlement was a “victory for free speech.”

“This landmark victory for free expression means UC Berkeley can no longer wantonly treat conservative students as second-class members of its community while ignoring the guaranteed protections of the First Amendment,” it said in a statement.

As part of the settlement, the university is considering eliminating “complexity” as a criterion for determining whether a campus event is major. Major events include those that raise safety or security concerns. The university has also committed to publishing a fee schedule for security costs that student organizations hosting speakers must bear.

The lawsuit was filed last year after a scheduled appearance by conservative commentator Ann Coulter didn’t take place in the wake of violence before a scheduled talk by another right-wing speaker, Milo Yiannopoulos. It accused the university of discriminating against conservative speakers.

U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney ruled in April that the lawsuit could move forward although she said there was no evidence of discrimination against speakers with conservative views.

UC Berkeley police canceled Yiannopoulos’ scheduled speech in February 2017 just before it was to begin, citing safety concerns. A large crowd had gathered outside and a demonstration turned violent when dozens of black-clad anarchists appeared and attacked some demonstrators and later vandalized some businesses near the campus.

University officials repeatedly cited safety concerns for restrictions on subsequent conservative speakers, and Chesney said “there are no allegations suggesting those concerns were unfounded.”

Chesney said the Berkeley College Republicans, the other plaintiff in the case, and Young America’s Foundation could challenge what they said were secret university restrictions on speakers and a $9,000 fee the school charged to host conservative writer Ben Shapiro. The university has denied any secret policy for high-profile speakers.

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