Last Tuesday, February 6, a UCLA student group called Liberty, Objectivity, Greed, Individualism, Capitalism (LOGIC) planned to sponsor a debate on immigration between Carl Braun, Executive Director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps of California, and Yaron Brook, Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute and advocate for open immigration. LOGIC’s goal was to host a true debate, with both speakers representing opposing points of view on immigration.
On Sunday, February 4, a group of UCLA students led by Students for a Democratic Society announced that they would protest the debate to “demonstrat[e] against the Minutemen and the racist agenda they promote.” LOGIC CEO Arthur Lechtholz-Zey reports in his summary of events that one protestor wrote on the website la.indymedia.org, “let’s do what they did at Columbia and shut it down,” referring to the students who turned a Minutemen appearance at Columbia University into a free-for-all last October.
With just two days to spare, UCLA reacted to the protestors’ threats by demanding that LOGIC pay for additional security guards—at a cost totaling $12,000-15,000. Lechtholz-Zey reports that university administrators told him that student organizations bear the cost of security for their events and for whatever proximately results from those events.
Because LOGIC was unable to pay for security to patrol the area outside the debate, its only option was to cancel the event.
Although UCLA has no clear policies delineating who pays for additional security for campus events, Director of Police Community Services Nancy Greenstein told the UCLA Daily Bruin on Tuesday that “university police provides each student group with 12 free hours of security per year.” Mike Cohn of UCLA’s Center for Student Programming further told the Bruin, “The protest is involved with their event. They have to ensure that their event is safe for everybody. If they choose to bring speakers that are controversial, then they have to be responsible for that. And that’s the standard for all campus organizations.”
The Ayn Rand Institute issued a press release last week condemning UCLA’s actions. Indeed, to say that students are responsible for whatever disruptive activity results from hosting a debate is to grant a heckler’s veto to the most disruptive members of the university community, since protestors wishing to shut down speech with which they disagree merely have to threaten to protest, and student groups not able to come up with thousands of dollars will be forced to cancel their events.
Cohn’s statement above, that LOGIC invited protest by holding a controversial event, is truly outrageous considering the fact that hosting debate between two experts with different opinions is about the most responsible and educational manner in which LOGIC could have brought attention to the immigration issue. If student groups are to be punished for hosting debates on important, timely issues, then the marketplace of ideas is surely doomed.
LOGIC is working on rescheduling the event, but UCLA has not yet made clear who will foot the bill for the extra security. FIRE plans to pursue this issue until UCLA realizes that student groups are not accountable for protest or violence that occurs in reaction to responsible, reasonable, free expression.