The activists who tried to keep Bill Maher from speaking at Berkeley lost out, but they still pose a real danger.
Berkeley did the right thing, but it offered the wrong explanation—and that mistaken explanation raises the chances that the next university may do the wrong thing if it faces some combination of a less self-confident speaker, a better-organized protest, or a less strong-willed university leadership.
“Free speech” is the wrong category in which to think about attempted commencement shutdowns. Nobody has a right to be a commencement speaker.
When protesters mobilize against an invited university guest, they are not merely expressing disapprobation of a selection. They are threatening the university with embarrassment or worse unless the university yields to their wishes. It’s the university, not the speaker, who is their target. What they want from the university is not the right to be heard, but the right to veto. More exactly: These battles over campus speakers are not battles over rights at all. They are battles over power.
What they would have done, had they succeeded, was write new rules for the university itself: rules about what may be said, who may say it, and who decides.