What's at Stake for Berkeley After Trump Warns University Over Canceled Speech

President Donald Trump’s apparent warning that the University of California at Berkeley could be at risk of losing federal funds after campus police canceled a talk by a controversial news editor has raised questions about whether the U.S. government can restrict funding to a particular university.

Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council of Education, which represents U.S. colleges and universities, says it’s possible, but only under “clearly dictated procedures” that relate to “financial fraud or scientific misconduct,” not over alleged violations of free speech or violence.

Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak Wednesday night at the university before police cleared out unruly crowds of people protesting his visit. The university eventually canceled the talk after some of the protestors threw smoke bombs and started a fire.

Yiannopoulos is a vocal Trump backer who has been called a racist and misogynist, among other criticisms.

Trump took offense this morning over the canceled speech. “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” he wrote on Twitter.

If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017

Berkeley does receive a significant amount of federal funding, mostly in two forms, Hartle of the American Council of Education said.

“The first is student financial assistance in the form of Pell grants and federal loans,” he said of the federal subsidies. “The second is in the form of federal grants for research and development.”

The latter allows university faculty and students to work on projects that could benefit agencies like the National Institutes of Health, under which the money would be distributed.

According to Berkeley’s 2014-2015 annual financial report, the most recent posted on its website, the university received $417.3 million in federal grants and contracts, plus an additional $39.4 million in Pell grants for students during 2015.

For Trump to follow through on his tweet, however, Congress would have to establish a provision to regulations guiding the funding of grants and loan programs to include ramifications for alleged free speech violations or campus violence, which would likely face legal challenges, Hartle says.

The president could also seek to reduce the government’s funding for the university by submitting a budget to Congress that de-emphasizes grants to universities and student loans and directing his Cabinet to divert funds elsewhere. But that would affect all schools and students, not just Berkeley.

A larger question, in the aftermath of Trump’s response, has been whether Berkeley deserved such a rebuke from the president. There’s no evidence that the event was canceled in order to suppress Yiannopoulos’ views, but rather for precautionary safety reasons after some protesters broke windows and threw rocks, which university officials cited.

“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,” they said in a statement Wednesday.

It a statement on its Facebook page, the Berkeley College Republicans, the group which organized the event, thanked police and the “university administration for doing all they could to ensure the safety of everyone involved,” criticizing instead the “criminals and thugs” who contributed to the violence.

Prior to Yiannopoulos’ arrival, as members of the community voiced opposition to his appearance, Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks wrote a public message in which he reminded the school of the “right to free expression, enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution” and of the campus’s history as a center of free speech.

Dirks sent an additional open letter today, decrying the violence that took place Wednesday night and saying that the university went to “extraordinary lengths” to ensure the event could occur amid the contentious environment.

“UC Berkeley condemns in the strongest possible terms the actions of individuals who invaded the campus, infiltrated a crowd of peaceful students and used violent tactics to close down the event,” Dirks wrote. “We deeply regret that the violence unleashed by this group undermined the First Amendment rights of the speaker as well as those who came to lawfully assemble and protest his presence.”

He added that it was the University of California Police Department that decided to evacuate Yiannopoulos and cancel the event.

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