SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah's preparations for a planned Sept. 27 appearance by conservative writer Ben Shapiro took on added urgency Friday after hundreds of protesters swarmed the University of California-Berkeley campus Thursday night during Shapiro's visit there.
Nine people were arrested, four for carrying banned weapons, according to the Los Angeles Times.
University of Utah President David Pershing, attending a Utah State Board of Regents meeting at Weber State University on Friday, said the scale of protest and weapons arrests "does raise more concerns."
"We had a number of our staff, including the university police chief, go down there last night to see what Berkeley did and see how they managed the situation," Pershing said in a brief interview.
Law enforcement was out in force "to prevent a repeat of recent violent clashes between far-left and far-right agitators," according to the Times.
Some $600,000 was spent on security, the newspaper reported. No major skirmishes were reported aside from shouting matches and the evening ended peacefully.
Shapiro's appearance at the U. is sponsored by a registered student organization, Pershing said. Shapiro is a former editor of Breitbart News, a news and opinion website. Shapiro is a conservative political commentator, columnist, author, radio talk show host and attorney.
"We certainly believe in free speech. He is being sponsored by a registered student group that meets our criteria in that way. But at the same time, we've got to protect our students, faculty and staff and community members that come and also the physical facilities," Pershing said.
Earlier this week, some 50 students picketed outside of Pershing's office for "several hours. "Their concern is their own physical safety, which is a reasonable thing to worry about," he said.
According to the University of Utah student newspaper, the protest was organized by the university organization Chicanx Student Movement of Aztlán. Other student groups participating included the U.’s Students for a Democratic Society and the Black Student-Union.
The Chronicle reported the students were outside Pershing's office for four hours on Tuesday, then left to attend an on-campus meeting convened by the committee that will select the next U. president. The meetings were intended to solicit comments on specific qualities, experience and characteristics the university community would like in the next president.
Following the protest the Chicanx Student Movement of Aztlán released a statement saying “we do not support forms of expression that reinforce, promote, and/or are aligned with the countless forms of violence against marginalized communities unfolding nationwide.”
The statement said the Tuesday protest sought not only to oppose Shapiro’s speech, but also to address recent campus incidents, including the display of racist posters around the campus and the loss of faculty and administrators of color who have supported the group in the past.
“The university has essentially created an unwelcoming and unsafe environment for underrepresented students,” the statement read. “Moreover, the majority of biased incidents against our communities on this campus are perpetrated by professors, yet they are not addressed.”
Harris Simmons, a board of regents member and co-chairman of the presidential search committee, said the students didn't address Shapiro's upcoming visit, but "they wanted to make sure diversity was part of our thought process."
Shapiro was invited to the U. campus by Young Americans for Freedom, according to a U. website.
"Campus police will be on hand to maintain the peace and the U. is working with faculty to relocate classes that may be taking place near the auditorium where Shapiro’s talk is being held. Young Americans for Freedom is creating a ticketing process for those who want to attend Shapiro’s speech and will be announcing details soon," the website states.
Contributing: Ryan Morgan