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Tough Questions for University Administors: Pay the Price or Risk Reputation?

The American university system has recently been beset with a series of contentious incidents involving the ability of speakers to present their arguments before the student bodies. From Berkeley to Middlebury, riots have erupted and egos have been bruised where simple college talks, which in times past would have gone off without a hitch, have become battlegrounds for hyper-polarized students and outside agitators.

Damned if they do, damned if they don’t

For administrators like Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of University of California, Berkeley, being notified by a student group that the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos or Ann Coulter have been invited to your campus can put you squarely between a rock and a hard place.

Both of those misfortunes have befallen Mr. Dirks, who once again made headlines recently when the planned speech of Ann Coulter, a right wing author, was cancelled amid threats of violence and unrest. Mr. Dirks contends that he did everything he could. But Ms. Coulter first ended up voluntarily cancelling her speech because she would not have been allowed to address students in any of the usual campus venues normally afforded to speakers. Mr. Dirks responds that the refusal to allow Ms. Coulter to use the usual venues was a result of simply not being able to guarantee the safety and security of anyone in attendance.

Even so, Mr. Dirks offered Ms. Coulter an alternate venue at an alternate time. Even this, had she agreed to accept it, would have cost the university tens of thousands of dollars as a result of being forced to hire an additional 100 policemen to keep the peace. Ultimately, the invitation for Ms. Coulter to speak was rescinded by the group that had originally invited her after it received continued threats of violence.

The university is currently facing a lawsuit from a student group alleging 1st Amendment violations.

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