University of California at Berkeley professor and Free Speech Movement leader John Searle blasted President Trump’s tweeted threat to cut federal funding for the university over Wednesday’s violent protest that scuttled a scheduled speech on campus by Breitbart editor and conservative firebrand Milo Yiannapoulos.
“I don’t think there’s any way you can cut federal funds to the university because a few students acted up. That’s crazy,” Searle told TheWrap on Thursday.
A leader in the Free Speech Movement on the college campus when he was a young professor in 1964, Searle said he disapproved of the tactics employed to thwart Yiannapoulos’ planned address, calling the violence — which included the use of Molotov cocktails that caused generator-powered spotlights to catch fire — “a terrible violation of free speech.”
“Free speech means all ideas can be expressed, and that means people even have the right to expound disgusting ideas,” the acclaimed philosophy professor told TheWrap.
Still, Searle called the president’s threat to cut funding to the school “ridiculous” and “unintelligent to the point of idiocy,” adding: “Donald Trump has fantasy that there’s a faucet of money to Berkeley and he can turn it off.”
The Berkeley professor noted a multitude of federal monies that come into the school — including Pell Grants awarded to students and government contracts used to fund research — and said that would be nearly impossible for a president to block.
In light of Trump’s claim that the university didn’t “allow free speech,” the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said there was no evidence that Berkeley silenced Yiannopoulos.
“Those who engage in violent and/or destructive protests are ultimately responsible for their unlawful behavior and may be subject to arrest and prosecution by law enforcement,” the group, which promotes freedom of speech, said in a statement.
“To punish an educational institution for the criminal behavior of those not under its control and in contravention of its policies, whether through the loss of federal funds or through any other means, would be deeply inappropriate and most likely unlawful.”
“A few people behaved very badly and interfered with free speech,” said Searle, placing the blame on the protesters and not the university itself. “It is a terrible thing and needs to be punished. But if that’s going to make you cut funding to a whole university — that’s crazy.”
Searle’s suggestion to protesters: Don’t get violent. “There are a lot of ways to make a peaceful protest,” he said.
Searle was the first tenured professor at the campus to join the Free Speech Movement back in 1964 — where the movement was started by students protesting the Vietnam War. It is credited with inspiring the spread of anti-war demonstrations in the ’60s and early ’70s.