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SALT LAKE CITY — After footing the bill for security during conservative commentator Ben Shapiro's speech last week, the University of Utah is weighing whether student groups should shoulder more of the cost when they bring controversial speakers to campus.
"It's a really hard balance between supporting free speech and the cost — the practical reality of these things," university spokesman Chris Nelson said. "It might be that we have to push this cost back on to student groups to make them a little more cognizant, or help them choose other venues."
About 60 officers kept several scuffles at bay during the Sept. 27 lecture, with hundreds of protestors and several Shapiro supporters gathering outside. The $25,000 price tag for law enforcement was pulled from tuition and taxpayer revenue, and it was offset in part by local departments volunteering officers.
"There have been no decisions yet," Nelson said, but university officials are leaning toward compiling guidelines for any future events likely to attract protesters.
The U. chapter of the national Young Americans for Freedom brought Shapiro to campus, handing out 400 free tickets for the speech in the Behavioral Sciences Building.
Dillon Clark, chairman of the chapter, said he didn't have a comment on potentially having to pony up for the next talk because he didn't have specifics yet on what that would look like.
Young Americans paid to bring the Daily Wire editor-in-chief to campus, covering his hotel and speaking fee, said Spencer Brown, spokesman for the national organization.
But the sum Shapiro charged for his Utah stopover isn't known. Both Brown and Clark have declined to give a price or say where the money for his speech came from.
Shapiro likely won't be the only conservative pundit to address students on the campus this year.
"Given the remarkable success achieved by the Young Americans for Freedom chapter and the immense demand for conservative ideas we saw at the University of Utah, I’m sure we will work with (the U. and Young Americans for Freedom) to bring more conservative speakers to their campus,” Brown said in a statement.
The U. chapter is raising money online for future guests, with a goal of netting $20,000. It had raised a little more than $1,100 as of Friday. The group is considering who to bring to the school in the spring, Clark said.
Several teams of four officers each, plus barricades and patrol cars used during the speech weren't the only investment the U. made.
Two weeks before Shapiro touched down in Salt Lake City, seven administrators took a field trip to the University of California, Berkeley to study policing and communications during Shapiro’s Sept. 14 speech there.
The trip cost the school $7,300. And it persuaded U. police to pour more resources into security than initially planned, though the school declined to give specifics.
“In a situation like this, it's better to be overprepared and have to underreact,” Nelson said.
The group included four employees from the police department. Nelson also went, along with Bill Warren, the university's chief communications officer, and Lori McDonald, its dean of students.
Most in the visiting U. group touched down in California on Wednesday evening and returned Friday, Nelson said. He didn't provide details on where they stayed.
They took notes on how Berkeley's police chief briefed officers, and they analyzed how the school's communications staff dealt with reporters, employees and students. They also observed how authorities set up barricades and secured the speech.
Police made nine arrests at the California school, and the security cost ran $600,000.
Shapiro told the U. audience he believed the need for security was "pathetic" but that he appreciated officers risking their own safety. Outside, one protester was arrested after police said she used a Taser on someone, and another person was arrested for disorderly conduct.
University police were flanked at the event by officers from several neighboring departments, including Cottonwood Heights and West Jordan, as well as federal agencies the U. declined to specify.