At Harvard, Free Speech Likely Costs Thousands

Protesting DeVos
A student holds a banner protesting Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' appearance at the Kennedy School Thursday evening. Some students silently disrupted the event indoors, while others rallied and chanted outdoors.

When Charles A. Murray ’65 spoke at Harvard on Sept. 6, the controversial sociologist left behind more than just a few remarks on his scholarship—the Cambridge Police Department charged his alma mater $12,000 in security fees.

Dozens of students and local residents turned out to protest Murray’s appearance, drawing officers from both the Harvard University Police Department and the CPD. Murray, whose views on race have long drawn widespread criticism, sparked violence when he appeared at Middlebury College last year: Students forcibly prevented Murray from speaking and injured a professor in the process.

Harvard administrators were willing to pay a premium to prevent a similar outcome. As controversial speakers like Murray draw vigorous on-campus protest, Harvard has increasingly turned to CPD and HUPD for support, shelling out upwards of $10,000 per event in a trend experts say will only continue.

Over the past semester and a half, three highly polarizing figures—Murray, ex-pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—have visited Cambridge, each drawing scores of protesters and a heavy police presence. At the DeVos event on Sept. 28, for example, at least 15 cops—some with bomb-sniffing dogs—surveilled the roughly 300 demonstrators outside while nearly a dozen officers monitored the secretary’s speech indoors.

Harvard won’t say how much it spends on campus police. Administrators from the College and Kennedy School either declined to answer questions or did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Harvard University Police Department spokesperson Steven G. Catalano wrote in an emailed statement that it is the department’s “longstanding policy” not to “discuss staffing levels or security measures.”

But costs to CPD alone can run above $10,000, according to department spokesperson Jeremy Warnick. And with the added amount the University must pay its own police force, campus security experts estimate Harvard’s total expenses at more than twice that number.

Policing expert Brett Meade said he thought Harvard’s security charges for the DeVos speech and counter-demonstration “easily” ran to tens of thousands of dollars. Meade, a fellow at policing research group the Police Foundation, also serves as Deputy Chief of Police at the University of Central Florida.

Some analysts predict Harvard’s security expenses will only rise in coming months.

“I don’t have any figures to give you, but I can guarantee you that the cost is going up for everybody,” Police Foundation president Jim Bueermann said. “Even though you may not be able to get the numbers [from Harvard], this I think is the reality for universities today.”

Steven J. Healy, the CEO of campus security consulting company Margolis Healy, agreed.

“The landscape is different than it was five years ago, ten years ago,” said Healy, who previously served as Director of Public Safety at Princeton. “There is a wider acknowledgement that… promoting free speech is not free—given the current climate, there tends to be a greater awakening of oppositional voices, so that brings protest and that costs money.”

Harvard must also devote more time and manpower to pre-demonstration preparations. Archon Fung, academic dean for the Kennedy School, said the school holds “extensive” planning sessions before high-profile, controversial speakers come to campus.

Assistant Dean of Student Life Alexander R. Miller did not respond to multiple requests asking to discuss how the College prepares for controversial speakers and protests.

Fung said administrators at the very highest levels of the Kennedy School, including Executive Dean John A. Haigh, attend these discussions. After working out “what the situation is likely to be” and “what kind of security is called for,” officials reach out to Harvard University police, Fung said.

Usually, Harvard police then notify a liaison at the Cambridge Police Department who “deploy[s] resources accordingly,” department spokesperson Warnick said.

Fung said that, in his nearly two decades at Harvard, he has never once heard Kennedy School administrators balk at possible event security costs.

“I’ve never been in a conversation where somebody said, ‘Oh, there’s a tradeoff here between the safety and security concerns and some amount of resources and so we can’t afford it,” Fung said. “I’ve never been in a conversation like that.”

He added he has “no idea” what the Kennedy School’s security costs are.

Fung said Kennedy School administrators have already started planning for Corey Lewandowski and Sean Spicer’s upcoming trips to Cambridge. The Kennedy School has yet to name firm dates for either visit.

Lewandowski is President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager. Spicer served as White House Press Secretary until he resigned in July.

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