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Editorial: Campus speech no joke

April 22, 2017 GMT

After days of absorbing criticism, it finally occurred to someone at the University of California Berkeley that announcing — a week in advance — the school administration’s utter helplessness to protect an invited guest speaker was not a mark of leadership on this public university campus. After first canceling a planned speech by conservative provocateur Ann Coulter, citing its inability to provide a secure environment, the administration now says she can speak after all.

Now, Coulter’s brand of shock “conservatism” isn’t particularly admirable — and we realize these invitations are part of a coordinated effort by conservatives to expose liberal bias on American college campuses (it doesn’t take much).

And Berkeley has also been forced in recent months to control violent protests on campus, involving many non-students.

But canceling the speech was a weak concession to the inmates who have shown their willingness to use violence to take over the asylum.

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It’s the university’s responsibility to provide security — to create a “safe space” as it were — for the guest of a sanctioned campus group, in this case, the College Republicans, if the goal is indeed to promote the free exchange of ideas.

Clearly the university had plenty of time to come up with a security plan — and its initial unwillingness to do so suggests the problem was with what Coulter was expected to say, and not the environment in which she would say it.

Amid the Coulter kerfuffle Berkeley became the subject of satire, when The Onion joked that the campus had gone into lockdown after a few loose pages of The Wall Street Journal were found on a campus bench.

“As of now, the perpetrator remains at large, so it is vital that you stay where you are until the all-clear is given,” reads a fictional “urgent alert.”

The sad thing is, at Berkeley and on so many other campuses, it’s becoming difficult to distinguish truth from satire.