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U.S. Universities Fear A Violent 2018

Campus Violence

After a year marked by campus confrontations between white nationalists and anti-fascist extremists, university administrators are preparing for a combative and potentially violent 2018 by beefing up security and examining the boundaries of their own commitment to free speech.

Administrators at many campuses told POLITICO that they are struggling to balance their commitment to free speech with campus safety, as white nationalists and left-wing provocateurs vow to continue the types of confrontations that have led to violence in Berkeley, California, and Charlottesville, Virginia.

College administrators, many of whom said they were proud of their commitment to free speech, nonetheless expressed deep concern for student safety, and lesser concern about security costs.

“It’s the No. 1 topic of the year, I would say, for folks in my business,” said Kevin Kruger, president of the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, a group that specializes in the intersection of university policies and campus life.

The tension between free speech and safety has been visible on many campuses, Kruger said, and the prospect of “an event getting out of hand and the potential loss of life or injuries” and, to a lesser degree, reputational damage, has many administrators worried.

Some colleges and universities are expecting increases in security funding, as they train campus police in mob control; others are scheduling student dialogue sessions and sending campus officials to training sessions on hate groups. Several universities are now requiring more notice before speaking events and have banned outside groups from reserving campus facilities without the sponsorship of a university-sanctioned group.

At Middlebury College in Vermont, a committee has been formed to review events that may require additional security. The University of California-Davis uses a software monitoring program to track online chatter about upcoming events.

What’s most concerning to administrators is the fact that they must contend not only with rallies by one extremist group, but with their rivals on the other extreme.

“What we’re seeing now is the counterprotest — that has been a shift,” said Jeff Allison, director of government and external relations for the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. “Certainly the tone and volume has shifted … over the last year. We’ve all witnessed that.”

“These challenges come in all directions and all contexts. They come from the left and they come from the right,” Frederick Lawrence of the Anti-Defamation League, testified in July on Capitol Hill. “They involve students. They involve faculty and they involve those outside the campus who affect the community as invited speakers and sometimes as uninvited agitators.”

Tensions are rising so rapidly that the tone and threat level on campus has increased sharply since December 2016, according to school administrators including Amy Smith, a senior vice president at Texas A&M.

“I feel like sometimes we’ve lived 10 years in a year in how we’re dealing with these things because today I would be worried that you would attract the off-campus entities to the counterevent, and would that cause a safety concern,” Smith said. “There has to be a national dialogue among universities and across the country on how we can guarantee the ability to express your opinions and also to know that students can come to school and stay alive and well.”

By KIMBERLY HEFLING

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