Cost of free speech: Cal Poly, CSU will pay for security at Milo Yiannopoulos event

Milo Yiannopoulos holds a sign as he speaks at the University of Colorado campus on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. The Breitbart editor is scheduled to speak at Cal Poly on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017.
Milo Yiannopoulos holds a sign as he speaks at the University of Colorado campus on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. The Breitbart editor is scheduled to speak at Cal Poly on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017. AP

Much as we deplore the bigoted and incendiary talk that has turned Milo Yiannopoulos into a celebrity spokesman for the ultra-right, like it or not, he is scheduled to speak at Cal Poly on Tuesday night.

His appearance is expected to generate protests on campus, and the university is beefing up security as a result.

In case you’re wondering, Cal Poly and the California State University system will pick up the tab for policing the Milo show.

The university hasn’t released a cost estimate, but we know the event will be heavily staffed with campus police and other university employees, as well as police officers from other CSU campuses.

The CSU will cover salaries of officers coming from other universities, according to Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier, and Poly will pay for their travel, food and lodging. For safety reasons, Lazier would not disclose how many officers will be on duty.

As we’ve said before, we don’t believe Yiannopoulos’ brand of hate belongs at Cal Poly. We wish Cal Poly College Republicans had chosen someone who could articulate conservative views without offending Muslims, women, transgender people, “social justice warriors” and others in the process.

However, we believe the university is taking the right approach in footing the bill for security.

As Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong wrote in a Viewpoint published in Friday’s Tribune, it is “the university’s responsibility to support the rights of all people to express their opinions and ideas — regardless of how unpopular they may be.”

That being the case, we believe it’s also the university’s responsibility to ensure the safety of the speaker and the audience — as well as those who may show up to protest speakers with “unpopular opinions and ideas.”

We believe it’s unreasonable to expect students to cover the cost of security every time they want to sponsor a speaker, a political rally or a march. Such a move truly would have a chilling effect on free speech.

Yet other universities are asking students to pick up at least part of the tab for policing Milo’s appearances. According to the San Jose Mercury News, UC Berkeley was requiring the student Republican club there to pay as much as $10,000 for security. The Albuquerque Journal reports the University of New Mexico charged the college Republican group $3,400. There also have been reports that sponsoring organizations at other colleges have turned to GoFundMe to raise money to pay for security for the Yiannopoulos tour.

Supporters of Yiannopoulos claim the fees are nothing more than a ploy to prevent him from appearing at college campuses; they describe them as “fee censorship” and a “free speech fine.”

If universities are indeed singling out Yiannopoulos’ appearances for special fees, that’s wrong.

We expect public universities to be even-handed, which is why we strongly objected when Cal Poly required that Michael Pollan’s 2009 talk on sustainable agriculture be turned into a “panel discussion” at the behest of a potential donor.

Cal Poly should not make up rules as it goes along; if it doesn’t require that controversial speeches be “sanitized” by turning them into panel discussions, it must apply that policy uniformly.

That same principle should apply to Tuesday’s event.

Cal Poly College Republicans should not be on the hook for paying for additional security — nor should the students who show up to protest.

It means more expense for Cal Poly, but that’s one of the prices we pay in a democracy that values free speech.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune