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Cost of free speech on UW campus on the rise

caption: Protesters crowd into the University of Washington's Red Square on Friday, January 20, 2017 during a speech by Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos.
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Protesters crowd into the University of Washington's Red Square on Friday, January 20, 2017 during a speech by Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos.
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

Last year the University of Washington's College Republicans invited former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos to campus. Yiannopoulos is a conservative and provocative speaker whose speeches and rallies often draw protests. The night he spoke at the University of Washington those protests turned violent.

This year when the College Republicans decided to hold a rally with the Patriot Prayer group, the university told them to pay a $17,000 security fee.

The university explained that the fee covers the UW police officers needed to maintain a safe environment. They also factored in the time (it's on a Saturday) and place of the event (Red Square). The cost of securing the Yiannopoulos event in 2017 was over $20,000 for the University Police Department and $53,000 for the Seattle Police Department. At that time the College Republicans were asked to pay roughly $9,000 in security fees.

Bill Becker, the lawyer for the College Republicans, said this $17,000 security fee is unconstitutional. On Tuesday the College Republicans sued the University of Washington and on Friday a federal judge ruled to temporarily block the fee.

Sigal Ben-Porath, education professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book "Free Speech On Campus," explained in an interview with Bill Radke that it is a problem when a university uses security or administrative fees to bar speakers from coming. However, she noted, that based on the violence at last year's event, this rally is a costly affair and it's within the university's right to pass that cost on to the club organizing the rally.

She explained that this has been an ongoing issue on multiple campuses in the last year or two. "Speakers came recently to the University of Florida, the cost was over half a million dollars, so this is a significant price that was paid for police and other safety measures, as well as the cancellation of classes on campus."

In that case the judge in Florida ruled that the university had to pay the security fees.

Rallies and protests are not new to college campuses, but what is new according to Ben-Porath is the outside forces that are "not part of the campus life itself," enacting their differences on the college campus. She said that "the campus has become a training ground, not for students, but for outside media companies, outside political parties and outside groups, looking to use the campus to illustrate a broader political point. So the campuses themselves are not the originating parties to these events, instead they are becoming pawns in the bigger culture war that is being played around the country today."

In a letter to students, faculty and staff of the University of Washington, President Ana Mari Cauce advised people to avoid Red Square between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday.

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