‘Paying to be victimized’: Commission on Free Speech meeting garners economic talk among student body

David Rodriguez/Staff

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UC Berkeley’s Commission on Free Speech gathered to discuss financial concerns and the impact of free speech issues on the campus community during its second meeting Monday.

Controversial speakers have become costly for the university — last year, free speech-related speaking events cost UC Berkeley almost $4 million, as first reported by The Daily Californian. Most of that money was spent on security for events featuring Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos, as well as for costs associated with “alt-right” counterprotests.

At the meeting Monday, many of the written submissions and public comments addressed a common concern: questions about the high financial costs of holding controversial speaker events.

In her address to the commission, campus freshman Jalen Banks said she understands the importance of open dialogue throughout the campus, but she added that it takes a lot of resources to facilitate security and that doing so should not come at the expense of raising tuition costs for students.

“(I am) paying to be victimized,” she said regarding the potential tuition hike, for which the vote has been postponed until later this semester.

Other attendees echoed this frustration with the financial costs of hosting free speech speakers on campus.

“It is wrong to equate freedom of speech with freedom of a financially-burdensome platform for this speech,” said Brian Gialketsis, coordinator of the Green Initiative Fund, a fund that provides grants for projects promoting campus sustainability, in his online submission to the commission.

Gialketsis said in the submission that the principle of freedom of speech does not give anyone the right to say anything, anywhere they want. He said in his submission that there must be a better way to promote dialogue than enabling hateful speakers to “ruin” the campus’s principles of community as well as its regular educational and business operations.

In spite of the high costs of free speech, Chancellor Carol Christ has stated that she does not “regret” having taken the steps to support the campus’s commitment to free speech and the safety of the campus community.

Pam Gleason, director of career planning at the Graduate School of Journalism, said in her address that Christ helped organize donors to pay for the security costs of major campus speaking events.

While she agreed that the costs to host some speakers was too high, Gleason said she supports the commission’s efforts, noting that the campus “went from being reactive to proactive” in its support for free speech.

Gleason concluded that she is proud of the progress being made by the campus on this issue.

Contact Alyssa Bernardino and Luke Kopetsky at [email protected].