There’s no such thing as a free lunch. UCLA seems to have forgotten that, though.
A conservative legal organization representing Bruin Republicans sent a letter Oct. 23 to Chancellor Gene Block claiming the university suppressed the student group’s freedom of speech by potentially imposing additional security costs for its November event hosting conservative commentator Ben Shapiro.
At the time, UCLA spokesperson Tod Tamberg said the university’s safety expense policies stated campus groups are responsible for basic security costs if more than 30 percent of their attendees are not affiliated with UCLA. Tamberg said basic security costs tend to be a thousands of dollars, but Bruin Republicans claimed the fees were too financially burdensome and thus were an indirect violation of its right to hold the event.
But in a reversal of the university’s position, Tamberg said in an email Friday that UCLA will cover the basic security costs for Bruin Republicans’ event regardless of the composition of the event’s attendees. He added the university will adopt this approach going forward while it reviews its current policy of covering costs for UCLA and student organizations.
The university clearly has good intentions, but this kind of ad-hoc measure is untenable and will leave UCLA, and the students and taxpayers that fund it, on the hook for all future events requiring campus security. The university must discard its policy of only covering costs based on arbitrary crowd composition limits, but at the same time require student organizations to cover basic security costs should the events they hold require it.
It seems obvious the university relented and decided to foot the bill for the security costs for this event in order to avoid an appearance of viewpoint discrimination. Yet, Bruin Republicans were not asked to potentially pay those costs because of the members’ ideological beliefs or because the university wanted to prevent Shapiro from speaking on campus. For example, the group hosted Shapiro in 2015.
Rather, under the current political climate, Shapiro’s presence on campus is likely to engender a great deal of attention, if the protests and political tension at University of California, Berkeley are any indication. The university has an obligation to pay additional costs to keep campus members safe, and as it reviews its event security policies, it should make clear that student groups – regardless of their political affiliation or the composition of their events’ crowds – are responsible for basic security costs if their programs warrants them.
This isn’t to say the university shouldn’t allow groups to host speakers like Shapiro. Students and campus groups are entitled to freely express their viewpoints without censorship from the university. However, these groups cannot ignore the fact that inviting controversial speakers comes with the added package of needing to ensure audience members’ and guests’ safety.
UCLA heavily subsidizes event security costs and has maintained from the beginning that it would cover any incremental security costs associated with protests that may occur in connection with the event. It is only fair that student groups take at least some financial responsibility for inviting speakers to campus.
UCLA and student organizations need to think hard about the ramifications of bringing speakers to campus. After all, you can only spend other people’s money for so long.