Universities, and proponents of free speech, are swallowing a hard lesson this year — that security for free speech is costly.
Back in mid-August of this year, in darkness, a mob of "tiki" torch-wielding, self-proclaimed, white nationalists marched across University of Virginia’s campus in the “Unite the Right” rally, led by Richard Spencer. Despite the bloodied end of the rally, in which one person died and many injured, Spencer gained more national exposure.
He again took to the national stage on October 19th at University of Florida. The event drew nearly 2,500 demonstrators, hecklers, and attendees. Local law enforcement agencies, and state National Guard members, were everywhere, deployed to secure the university’s area, under Florida Governor Rick Scott’s guidelines. The total cost of the security measures, totaled $600,000. Alumnus of the university, Elena Hilton reported in Esquire that “roads [were] closed, and temporary metal fencing [had] been raised outside of the [Phillips Center for Performing Arts], where the event [was] held.”
“We live in a country where everyone has the right to voice their opinion. However, we have zero tolerance for violence, and public safety is always our number one priority.”
Before Spencer’s talk in Gainesville, at the University of Florida, Milo Yiannopoulos also caused a stir at U.C. Berkeley. His talk, a 15-minute appearance, back in September cost the university $800,000 in what the school's spokesman Dan Mogulof has called "the most expensive photo-op in the university's history." Milo has since spoke on Cal State Fullerton campus on Halloween where 8 people were arrested during a protest.
In Mogulof’s estimates, these continued security measures will total “well in excess of a million dollars” — to exceed even the current sum of $2 million for all past events, including that of Ann Coulter’s talk and Ben Shapiro, among others. The Seattle Times also reported that in January earlier this year University of Washington and local law enforcement agents had put in nearly 950 hours of overtime, at the cost of about $75,000, because of another talk that had spurred heated contention.
Public universities have bore the brunt of this heightened political climate in the U.S. The long-term financial prospects of public institutions will stand to be the most affected by all of this.
In the wake of university spending, the U.C. office of the president published an announcement detailing plans to establish a “national effort to promote free speech and civic engagement.” Even University of Florida President Kent Fuchs has said to CNN, reflecting on Spencer’s talk, "I really don't believe that's fair that the taxpayer is now subsidizing through these kind of events the security and having to subsidize his hate speech."
Universities across the country stand in the crossfire of this free speech debate, and it will continue coming at a cost.