Inviting speakers to campus is a time honored tradition that brings outside perspectives to students' learning experience; but, with growing political activism among young adults, speakers — especially those that seem controversial — can actually pose a serious security threat to students and the business of the institution.
Institutions often exceed protest and security budgets when speakers come to campus
The University of Florida recently announced it would allow white supremacist Richard Spencer to appear on campus Oct. 19, after it had initially cited security costs as a reason to deny his visit. Spencer’s group will pay a rental fee and costs for basic security, while the university expects to spend $500,000 for additional efforts to keep the peace. And just this week, Texas Southern University had to cancel a lecture that was going to be given by Briscoe Bain, a conservative state legislator, after protests ensued and the institution decided not to invest resources in securing the event, according to Inside Higher Ed.
The University of California, Berkeley, has spent about $1.4 million so far this year to keep students safe during protests and counter-protests when controversial speakers come to campus — much more than its annual $250,000 “demonstration fund.” And, even smaller schools, such as the University of Wisconsin in Madison, spend thousands of department dollars to keep students and community members safe when protests are expected.
Security concerns have spiked since President Trump’s election and the following political polarization among citizens, experts say. This means that as more politically active students come to college, institution leaders must engage in advanced planning with campus and often municipal law enforcement agencies to prepare for the potential of angry protestors.
“We don’t have a cookie cutter approach,” UC- Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said. “For any and all events, we require advance notice and we assess security needs. For certain speakers we face special costs. Others might require little security.” But still, this year has brought exceptional costs for the California campus.
In mid-September, when the school invited conservative pundit Ben Shapiro, it spent $600,000 to bring in officers from across the University of California System and beef up its security. And due to violent protests that took place when conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos tried to speak on campus in February, officials also recently expected to pay $1 million in security and logistics costs for a “Free Speech Week” with the speaker — which ultimately didn't occur.
“We’re a public institution and must respect freedom of speech,” Mogulof said. “With security, we have been dealing with protesters from across the political spectrum, and what we’re seeing is groups with no affiliation with the school are making this a political battleground.”
Proactive planning is key to security and saving money
Like UC- Berkeley, the University of Wisconsin in Madison has a tradition of openness in a left-leaning community. The school spent at least $10,000 in additional security when Ben Shapiro appeared on campus earlier this year. Marc Lovicott, director of communications for the UW Police Department, said the community has a long history of protests and counter-protests— but is prepared.
“Once we are made aware of an event, we will assess security needs based on the type of event,” he said. “If it’s done in a classroom, they might not need security. If we have a speaker at the Union and expect 150 people, we would likely require two officers.”
Those two officers would be included in a contract and charged to the group hosting the event, Lovicott said. However, if the police department determines additional security on campus is needed because the speaker may attract protests, the department picks up those costs — including logistics planning, an arrest processing center, a command post, and up to 25 additional officers, depending on the event.
The Police Department pays those costs out of its budget, and could reach out to the college if additional funding was needed. Lovicott said the school hosts two or three events requiring additional security each year.
“I would say we’re seeing a slight uptick, but Madison is a campus with a long history of demonstrations,” he said. “I would say we are seeing more counter-protests.”
After seeing footage of the February protests at Berkeley, officials at the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, or Iaclea, created an Emerging Issues series, the first of which focuses on campus protests. The group also is hosting a training, “When Hate Comes to Campus,” in the month of October to help college public safety officers keep students safe.
The first training was held at Texas A & M University on Oct. 3 and attracted hundreds of administrators from colleges throughout the region, organizers say. Cost of the trainings is $70 for Iaclea members and $150 for non-members, a price meant to cover costs for the training.
“They’ve seen what has happened at other campuses and they see, too, they may have to prepare themselves and communities for such events,” said Jeff Allison, director of government and external affairs for Iaclea. Security costs go beyond simply keeping the peace while a speaker is on stage, he said.
“Weeks before that occurs they must do intelligence work,” he said. “We recommend they find out as much as they can from a variety of sources about the person or group coming to campus from a variety of sources.”
Campus police may have to work with the community at large to set up parameters for protests, which could require large numbers of officers, he said. Then there’s the recovery costs campuses face, which can include more than physical cleanup. That might include an expensive review of what went right or wrong and even student or faculty counseling.
“If you look at the life cycle of such an event, it may go to months,” Allison said. Iaclea has seen increased concerns from college administrators as the tenure of campus demonstration changes, he said. “There are definitely more hate-based groups coming with an intention to create chaos,” Allison said. “It’s a complex thing to plan for.”