Universities around the country are learning this year that free speech is far from free.
University of California President Janet Napolitano said Wednesday that the UC System plans to reimburse its Berkeley campus for half of the cost of security for conservative commentator Ben Shapiro’s speech there last week. Splitting the bill, Napolitano said, means that her office will pay about $300,000 while UC Berkeley pays an equal amount.
Napolitano said she plans to provide the same financial arrangement when provocative writer Milo Yiannopoulos and others speak at Berkeley in coming days in an event dubbed Free Speech Week.
She said that UC is trying to ensure that security arrangements do not become a barrier to the exercise of First Amendment rights of expression on public campuses.
“It’s a cost that the university is bearing to protect the speakers but also to protect the value of free speech,” Napolitano told reporters in Washington. “It’s a substantial cost.”
Questions about the balance of security expenses and speech rights are not unique to Berkeley. They have arisen elsewhere in higher education, especially since a demonstration of torch-bearing white nationalists and white supremacists at the University of Virginia helped catalyze a weekend of confrontation and violence last month in Charlottesville.
Napolitano said she would not second-guess how U-Va. handled that incident. “These are really difficult issues,” she said. “They’re complicated. They’re volatile.” She said she is mindful that some speakers come to campus to provoke rather than engage in academic debate. While the views those speakers espouse may be repulsive, she said, “colleges and universities are places where noxious ideas are expressed.”
As a former U.S. secretary of homeland security, Napolitano has some expertise in security issues. She said she has conferred with the UC Berkeley leadership and campus police about the arrangements for high-profile events like the Shapiro appearance.
Napolitano is also deeply versed in another hot-button issue that touches UC and other schools across the country: the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields certain undocumented students from deportation. The Trump administration recently announced that it was rescinding the Obama-era program, which Napolitano helped launch. But President Trump has also urged Congress to come up with a solution to protect a group of students who were brought to the United States illegally as children, known to many as “dreamers.”
Across the 10 UC campuses, Napolitano said, there are an estimated 4,000 undocumented students. The “vast majority” are DACA beneficiaries, she said. UC has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block the Trump administration’s action on DACA.
In recent years, Napolitano said, UC has taken a number of steps to support its undocumented students. She estimated that UC spends about $8 million a year to provide a coordinator for undocumented students on each campus and supply them with legal services. UC is also raising money to help certain eligible students pay a $495 fee for renewal of their DACA paperwork, Napolitano said, before the Trump-ordered suspension of the program takes full effect. And she said UC is telling campus police not to participate in any immigration enforcement.
Napolitano, who served in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet before taking the UC post in 2013, also told reporters that she met this year with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for about half an hour at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. They discussed budget issues, she said. “Her learning curve where higher ed is concerned is quite vertical,” Napolitano said, citing a discussion about a federal financial aid program called Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, or SEOG.
Napolitano told reporters that she meant the remark as an observation, not a criticism. A spokeswoman for the Education Department could not be immediately reached Wednesday afternoon for comment.
DeVos recently declared in a speech that the administration plans to replace Obama-era federal guidance on enforcement of civil rights related to campus sexual assault. The education secretary said she wants to ensure that when allegations of sexual violence are raised, campuses protect the rights of all parties in a given incident.
No matter what stance the federal government takes, Napolitano said that UC remains committed to enforcing the anti-discrimination law known as Title IX and that she does not expect any changes to the standard of evidence the university uses — known as “preponderance of the evidence” — in resolving sexual misconduct cases.
She said UC’s priorities in dealing with reports of sexual violence are consistency, fairness and timeliness. “We all want the same thing,” she said. “How that’s carried out is the question.”