The University of California-Berkeley spent nearly $4 million in a single month in 2017 on security for just three events.
From Aug. 27 to Sept. 27, Berkeley spent $3.9 million on security, in what Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof called an "unprecedented" sum for such costs over that short a period.
The events covered included an on-campus counter-protest to an anti-Marxist rally in the city; Ben Shapiro‘s lecture; and a Milo Yiannopoulos stunt dubbed "Free Speech Week," that consisted of a 15-minute appearance by the alt-right personality.
Two-thirds of the $4 million was spent on the Yiannopoulous event alone.
"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," said Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ. "We would have certainly preferred to expend these precious resources on our academic mission."
Mogoluf said the costs were solely determined on the "guidance and information" of law enforcement professionals, and not driven by student intolerance to controversial speakers or poor administrative planning.
UCPD Chief Margo Bennett said that "final costs exceeded original estimates due to the complexity of the law enforcement operations and a confluence of unprecedented and unforeseen developments."
"While we do not divulge the number of additional law enforcement officers we bring to campus for these events, in these instances the number of additional officers we required was without precedent, as was the number of allied agencies that provided the reinforcements," she added.
The UC Office of the President has agreed to take the unusual move of footing half of the month's bill, due to the "extraordinary circumstances." Berkeley has pledged to use neither state nor federal funds for its share of the expenses.
The university typically allots $200,000 total for the academic year to manage campus protests.
In December 2017, Christ convened a commission to reconsider how to sustain campus free speech programming in a "financially sustainable manner."
Policy changes have yet to be announced, with the commission's first report and recommendations expected by April.
The commission consists of faculty, staff, and students, all appointed by Christ — who in August dubbed this "Free Speech Year" for Berkeley.
A town-hall meeting Monday of the commission asked the campus community how to minimize repeated disruptions of the same area of campus, and whether a student club should be required to be active for a certain amount of time before being permitted to stage "a major event."
Berkeley is not alone in grappling with balancing free speech commitments and prohibitive security costs. Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer's renting speaking space at the University of Florida cost the administration $600,000 in security last semester.
A symposium by the Academic Engagement Network at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law earlier this month gathered public university administrators and general consuls to consider a way forward in a fraught free speech climate.
Public universities bound by the First Amendment must maintain content-neutral expression policies, making it necessary to consider "creative options" for handling skyrocketing costs, said Ken Waltzer, executive director of AEN.
One possibility explored was whether public universities are constitutionally permitted to set an advance security budget.
"When the budget runs dry, they would not support events anymore. The restriction must be content neutral, and it must be reasonable budget, but it might be actionable to shut down outside speakers at a certain point," said Waltzer. "Public universities can't afford to go on this way."