Comedian Bill Maher’s winter commencement address to the University of California at Berkeley this Saturday gained national attention after students asked the administration to rescind his invitation due to his strident recent criticisms of the Islamic faith. However, for all the controversy, Maher has proved a slow draw, with Berkeley selling half (3,800) of the available seats (7,000) for the event, according to university officials.
“Surpisingly, we actually had fewer tickets taken than usual,” Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof told Breitbart News on Tuesday. “I would have expected there would have been more interest.”
He added that tickets sales were still “very close to last year,” and that the university does not typically fill the arena for winter commencement.
Ticket sales are now closed.
Maher was invited to give the commencement address by the Californians, a Berkeley student group, after an administration official made the initial suggestion. However, after Muslim students started an online petition in protest, the Californians reversed their decision and urged the administration to disinvite Maher. University officials declined to do so, arguing that Maher should not be punished for constitutionally-protected speech.
The controversy has erupted as Berkeley celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, which inaugurated a decade of activism when students demanded the right to advocate for political causes on campus.
Maher has turned down an invitation by students to participate in a panel discussion after the commencement.
University officials expect protests, but do not expect the demonstrators to disrupt the commencement itself.
This article has been updated.
Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the new ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak