UC Berkeley spent $4 million on ‘free speech’ events last year

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Violent protests outside of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union building forced controversial conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos' event to be canceled.

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UC Berkeley spent close to $4 million on free speech events in the span of one month in 2017, according to documents obtained by The Daily Californian.

From Aug. 27 to Sept. 27, UCPD spent $3,910,259 on security fees and other expenses for three events: counterprotests held in response to the “alt-right” rally Aug. 27; conservative speaker Ben Shapiro’s appearance Sept. 14; and events related to the ultimately canceled “Free Speech Week,” which featured a brief appearance from Milo Yiannopoulos and the Patriot Prayer rally that followed on Sept. 26.

The high price tag far exceeds initial estimates for security costs borne by the campus: The security costs related to Ben Shapiro’s speaking event and Free Speech Week were initially estimated to at $600,000 and $800,000, respectively.

Overall, Free Speech Week cost nearly three times the amount spent on security for the first two events combined, with $190,404 spent Aug. 27 and $836,421 spent Sept. 13, compared to the $2,883,434 spent Sept. 24–27.

The vast majority of UCPD’s expenses went toward reinforcements from outside law enforcement agencies, with $485,283 spent Sept. 13 and $1,858,320 spent Sept. 24–27. UCPD brought in assistance from several agencies, including the Berkeley Police Department, California Highway Patrol and Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

“The number of additional officers we required was without precedent,” said UCPD Chief Margo Bennett in the documents. “We learned a great deal in the course of these events. … I am confident that this experience will be of great benefit in the future, in terms of both operational efficacy and financial planning.”

At a Graduate Assembly meeting Thursday, Chancellor Carol Christ stated that the UC Office of the President had agreed to shoulder half the costs, leaving UC Berkeley to pay about $2 million. This steep expense comes in the wake of Christ’s announcement that the campus is on track to reduce its structural deficit to $57 million by July 2018, down from where it stood at $150 million in 2016.

“There are lots of ways in which I would have preferred to use that $2 million,” Christ said during the meeting. “These expenses are so extraordinary and they’re an enormous burden, certainly on my time and the time of other administrators.”

According to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein, UC President Janet Napolitano chose to split costs with the campus because of the “extraordinary circumstances” surrounding speakers at UC Berkeley in particular. This decision, Klein said, was made shortly after Yiannopoulos’ scheduled event in February 2017 erupted into protests and flames.

Previously, UCOP had agreed to split the $600,000 bill for security fees at Shapiro’s campus event, leaving UC Berkeley to pay about $300,000 of the total cost.

“Event security costs of this magnitude are not sustainable, even as many of the factors that drive them are beyond the control or influence of a University,” Christ said in the documents. “We do not, however, regret having taken the steps that were clearly necessary to support our paired commitment to Free Speech and the safety of the campus community.”

Ashley Wong is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @wongalum.