Colleges Decline to Commit to Protecting Controversial Speakers
Following the shutdown of conservative speaker Heather Mac Donald by a crowd of students last spring, the Independent has discovered that none of the Claremont Colleges have adjusted their policies in order to protect controversial speakers on campus.
After Heather Mac Donald—a conservative scholar who opposes the Black Lives Matter movement—attempted to speak at Claremont McKenna College’s (CMC) Athenaeum last April, an angry mob of student protesters forced her to be hustled out the back door of the venue. The protest, enabled in part by ineffectual campus security, garnered national attention, which ultimately drove the college to penalize ten of its students. Most of the approximately 170 protesters, however, came from the other Claremont Colleges—all of which either have declined to investigate or have refused to punish their students for violating campus policy at that event.
Across the country, other campuses have grappled with the financial burden of protecting controversial speakers. From UC Berkeley’s expensive experience with Milo Yiannopoulos in February—where rioting caused more than $100,000 worth of damage to the University—to Ben Shapiro at the University of Utah, it is clear that freedom of speech for controversial speakers—especially conservatives—now requires significant financial commitments.
When asked if any of the five Claremont Colleges—which includes Pomona College, Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Scripps College, and Pitzer College—had altered their policies surrounding preventing disruptive crowds, each of the colleges independently confirmed that they had not adjusted their policies, and three of the five stated that event organizers were responsible for procuring funding for security.
Only Claremont McKenna and Scripps College indicated the possibility that they would cover the cost of security for an event. When asked how CMC planned to handle the potential financial burden of controversial speakers, Peter Hong, Associate Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications, told the Independent: “We consider covering extraordinary costs for any speaker.”
Likewise, Scripps College’s Associate Director of Media and Public Relations, Karen Bergh, indicated to the Independent that its administration provides some resources for event security, but that the financial burden of a speaker was one of the criteria that the administration reviews before allowing a speaker on campus:
“Scripps College has not introduced new policies, rather, in response to community concerns, we’ve ensured that event organizers are aware of the resources available to them to provide a safe, secure environment for all events. Requests for the use of campus venues are reviewed on a case by case basis and according to a range of criteria, including cost. We remain committed to providing a community forum for an exchange of ideas on a wide range of topics.”
When the Independent inquired after who assessed the events and the specific criteria used to evaluate speakers, Ms. Bergh declined to comment further.
Though Pomona College, Harvey Mudd College, and Pitzer College all stated that event organizers were required to provide the funds for their own security, they indicated that some degree of assistance might be provided by the campuses’ security officers.
Mary Lou Ferry, Pomona College’s Vice President and Chief Communications Officer, indicated that event sponsors are expected to cover security costs, but told the Independent: “The ASPC [Associated Students of Pomona College] has a security fund that will cover up to three campus safety officers for up to four hours for any student event. The student group that is sponsoring the speaker needs to apply ahead of time to receive that funding. They do so as part of their event planning process.”
It is unclear that ASPC would be willing to provide said funding for conservative speakers. From seeking to erase Columbus Day to withdrawing funding from parties they deem offensive, ASPC tends to back progressive causes.
Harvey Mudd College’s Chief Communications Officer, Timothy Hussey, explained a similar policy to the Independent:
“Event sponsors are responsible for the costs associated with hosting an event on campus,” stated Hussey, “We encourage student organizations interested in sponsoring events to coordinate with ASHMC and the Division of Student Affairs as needed to assess event-specific details and to partner with Campus Safety on security-related issues and costs.”
The same is true at Pitzer College.
“As with all speakers invited to the Pitzer campus, the College and the event sponsor work with Campus Safety and the speaker’s security team to ensure the safety of our community members and campus.” stated Anna Chang, Senior Director for Communications and Media Relations at Pitzer College.
“The event sponsor, whether faculty or student group such as the Student Senate, is responsible for costs associated with hosting the event, including travel, speaker fees, catering, security, etc.,” Chang went on to explain.
Some students, such as Eliot Sands (PO ‘20), were dismayed that security costs are an obstacle to controversial speakers at the Claremont Colleges: “The speakers shouldn’t have to charge the 5Cs [Claremont Colleges] in the first place, because violence has no place in political discourse,” Sands said.
“Pomona College shouldn’t be responsible for its students breaking the law; local law enforcement should,” he added.
It is not unheard of for colleges to pay for event security. Both UC Berkeley and University of Florida have chosen to fund speakers they thought likely to bring destructive crowds, though the financial cost to each was substantial.
Photo: Credit to Jenifer Hanki.
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