UC Berkeley spends $290,000 on security for Ann Coulter talk

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Conservative author Ann Coulter’s appearance at UC Berkeley in November cost campus an estimated $290,000 for security, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

Coulter, a self-identified “right-wing polemicist” who once advocated for “go(ing) after the law abiding (immigrants) to send a message,” spoke on campus Nov. 20. The event took place after her 2017 talk was canceled because of security concerns.

According to campus’ major events policy, organizing bodies are required to “reimburse costs of basic event security provided by UCPD.” What the policy describes as “extraordinary security necessary to protect the larger community,” however, is paid for by campus.

Campus invoked these “extraordinary security” measures when it spent nearly $4 million cumulatively in one month of 2017 on “free speech” events such as Milo Yiannopoulos’ talk, and invoked these measures for the near $290,000 spent on Coulter’s November talk as well.

“The campus has responsibility for security on the campus,” Mogulof said. “We cannot be in a position where we can allow even the threat of disruption. … To make those costs the responsibility of hosting student organizations would definitely have a chilling effect on their exercise of free speech.”

The November event drew criticism from campus and community organizations, and more than a thousand community members protested Coulter’s talk. Sarah Abdeshahian, president of Cal Berkeley Democrats, criticized campus for spending money on the talk rather than programs directed at needs such as affordable housing or UC worker pay.

UC Berkeley’s nearly $300,000 in event security spending in November was less than half of what it spent on Coulter’s canceled 2017 talk, which cost campus roughly $600,000, according to Mogulof. Yiannopoulos’ 2017 talk, in contrast, saw the peak of campus security spending and cost campus $800,000.

ASUC Senator Milton Zerman said in an email that the $290,000 price tag for security sounded “reasonable” to him.

“If anything, I implore UC Berkeley to increase security spending for future events until students prove they can behave themselves in the face of controversial speakers,” Zerman said in the email.

Abdeshahian, however, said she disagreed and found campus’ funding of the Coulter event “unacceptable.”

She added that she felt campus administration should instead hold town halls and roundtables to reshape campus policy.

“It is really unfortunate to see the University applying the Major Events Policy inconsistently,” Abdeshahian said in an email. “It is unfortunate to see the University feed into this cycle instead of putting down actual rules regarding hate speech on our campus. Administrators continue to throw money at events like this and hope it goes unnoticed instead of finding long-term plans.”

Contact Ben Klein at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BenKlein_dc‏.