Eugene Volokh just posted a blog entry entitled “Who Should Pay for Security at Controversial University Events? on the canceled UCLA debate between Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute and Carl Braun of the Minutemen sponsored by the UCLA Objectivist club, LOGIC. He has a nice summary of the facts, then an analysis of the First Amendment issues. However, I was most interested in his discussion of the basic moral issue:
3. But it seems to me that regardless of the First Amendment outcome, academic freedom principles should lead the university to pay all the security costs itself. It looks like L.O.G.I.C. will be able to pay for the private security; but many groups might not be able to, and even L.O.G.I.C. might not be able to pay if the expected counterprotest is large enough. Sometimes, the thugs’ threatened disruption would get the event shut down, or at least moved off campus to a park.
So the question is: Should the university let the thugs drive debate on important and controversial issues off the university campus? I think the answer is that it should not.
I sympathize with the desire to save money that could be used for other academic purposes. I sympathize with the concern about violence (though I think it’s to the university’s credit that it will pay the great majority of the costs of deterring and containing the possible violence, rather than blocking the event or requiring student groups to pay for police protection).
Still, it seems to me most important that the university take a stand, even at some cost, in favor of protecting free speech and against those who are threatening to disrupt the speech. If the university doesn’t do it, and the thugs win, that will just promote more thuggery in the future. Behave that gets rewarded gets repeated.
Recall also that, thanks to Chancellor Abrams’ sound decision to provide police protection at UC expense, the debate now is over sums that are relatively modest for the university. But the sums are not modest for the groups involved, and may in fact lead to some events’ being canceled. If $1000-2000 extra for the relatively rare event that requires a good deal of security is the price to be spent for defending free debate at the university against the goons, that seems to me a price the university should be willing to pay.