- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2017

The University of Utah says it is firmly committed to free speech despite calls to cancel an upcoming appearance by conservative author Ben Shapiro.

University President David Pershing said Friday that school officials have closely monitored the clashes this week at the University of California, Berkeley, surrounding Mr. Shapiro’s speech in order to determine what measures they should take to protect students during his Sept. 27 appearance at the Salt Lake City campus, Deseret News reported.

Nine activists were arrested, some with weapons, during protests outside Mr. Sharpiro’s highly anticipated appearance in Berkeley on Thursday, but it was still relatively peaceful compared to past protests against conservative speakers such as former Breitbart New Editor Milo Yiannopoulos.

Still, Mr. Pershing said Thursday’s arrests raised concerns. He said his hands are tied, however, in canceling Mr. Shapiro’s speech because it is sponsored by a registered student organization, Young Americans for Freedom, and not the university itself.

“We certainly believe in free speech,” he said. “He is being sponsored by a registered student group that meets our criteria in that way. But at the same time, we’ve got to protect our students, faculty and staff and community members that come and also the physical facilities.”

Dozens of students from various progressive groups hosted a sit-in outside Mr. Pershing’s office for “several hours” Tuesday demanding that he cancel Mr. Shapiro’s event.

“Their concern is their own physical safety, which is a reasonable thing to worry about,” Mr. Pershing said.

In a statement on the school’s website, Mr. Pershing said he has a duty to uphold free speech values, even if that means protecting speech he finds abhorrent.

“As we strive to live our values, we face the challenge of how to respond to ideas we deplore,” he said. “Hearing hateful words and understanding what we stand for at the University of Utah leads many of you to ask what I will do to stop it.

“The answer is not an easy one: As much as I may disagree with what is being said, the constitution does not permit me to regulate what can and cannot be said, even when there is speech I abhor,” he said. “But make no mistake: By permitting free expression, we are not endorsing any particular speaker or viewpoint.”

Mr. Pershing said the best way to combat “hateful speech” is to “exercise our own right to speak,” “engage and be heard.”

University spokesman Chris Nelson toldThe Salt Lake Tribune that there have been discussions about holding “counter-programming” events on the same evening as Mr. Shapiro’s speech.

“We’re still kind of early in the logistics planning,” Mr. Nelson said. “What we’re learning from Berkeley is that they’re trying to prevent violence before it comes to campus.”

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