- University of Florida President W. Kent Fuchs reinforced his belief in promoting free speech on university campuses, but said the additional security costs associated with hosting white nationalists like Richard Spencer on campus place an "unfair" burden on taxpayers.
- According to an AP report, Fuchs has estimated an additional $600,000 cost — which will be shouldered by taxpayers who support the public institution — to host Spencer on campus later today, and said "taxpayers are subsidizing hate speech."
- The full cost estimate includes fees associated with bringing additional federal, state and local police officers, closing roads, and declaring a state of emergency in the area, which Gov. Rick Scott officially declared Monday.
After an individual died during protests in Charlottesville, VA, around the University of Virginia, many campus leaders have been even more reticent to host Spencer and other white nationalists on campus — the first job of a college president, after all, is to ensure the safety and well-being of students, faculty and staff, and the current climate has presented a clear and present threat to that safety. In the wake of this incident, UF joined other campuses in banning Spencer and his associates from renting space and speaking on campus. The ban was challenged in court, and ultimately, Spencer prevailed.
But in a climate in which the conversation is focused on affordability, ROI and the public burden of higher education, framing opposition to allowing these individuals on campus is an incredibly savvy move which will catch the attention of the same legislators who seek to push through bills to protect free speech above all. Conservative legislators will have to choose between a platform of pushing fiscal responsibility and one of pushing free speech above all — and account to their voters based on said choice.
For leaders of institutions hoping to push back against any unfavorable decision which comes down from above or feeling caught between a rock and a hard place of protecting campus interests while remaining accountable to a board which may have different interests, finding a way to tie the argument into the bottom line and taxpayer cost is the way to sway public opinion. If higher ed leaders can get voters and taxpayers on their side, their jobs become considerably easier in lobbying elected officials, whether the conversation is around appropriations or fighting legislation and policies which may adversely impact the campus environment.