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4/20 at CU-Boulder: $278K to shrink event well worth it, spokesman says

After a long delay, CU-Boulder has finally released the figures about how much it spent to shrink the annual 4/20 event on campus. The administration doled out $124,561.34, while student government spent $154,236.18. CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard thinks those numbers should be considered separately, rather than as a combined $278,797.52. But however the digits are viewed, he sees the sum as money well spent.

In our post earlier today about not-guilty pleas from three CU students charged with trespassing on 4/20, attorney Sean McAllister predicted the total cost would be around $300,000 -- not a bad guess if the two figures are added together. But while Hilliard (disclosure: a longtime family friend) knows that "the headlines will all read the combined number, and we're not going to superhuman lengths to decouple them, they should be decoupled."

Why? "Student government raises their own fees," he notes about funds spent to put on a disastrous Wyclef Jean concert intended as an alternative event to 4/20 for CU students. "They control around $36 million in student fees, which is one of the largest amounts for a university in the country, and they have an autonomy agreement that goes back to about 1984. They control those monies and have governance over how the student fees are spent."

Moreover, he continues, "They put forward the proposal for the Wyclef Jean concert, along with funding for it, which they control. And it's my understanding that money comes out of student fee reserves" -- meaning fees for CU attendees won't rise as a result of the expenditure. "The bottom line is, the student government stepped up with not just a commitment to end 4/20 on campus, but they put their money where their mouth is."

As for the administration payout, intended to close and keep visitors off the campus and prevent a crowd in the 10,000 range from gathering on the university's Norlin Quad, it was "clearly more than twice what we spent last year" -- about $55,000, by Hilliard's estimate. "And we fully expected that. We fully expected to spend more money to get rid of this event than to simply contain it." Moreover, the administration believes "this is the level of involvement we needed to spend to put an end to this and keep it from expanding to 13,000 people, 17,000 people, 20,000 people. The costs of continuing to accommodate a bigger and bigger crowd are considerable, not to mention the liabilities if someone falls, someone gets injured, someone gets killed. Then you're looking at lawsuits into the millions."

Page down to continue reading our interview with CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard. Under this philosophy, the extra cash spent now will lead to fewer dollars doled out down the line. "If we could spend this kind of money to get the event off the campus for all practical purposes, ultimately that's a cost savings," Hilliard says. "And we simply saw no end in sight to the growing crowd -- and it was growing every year. So we felt it was important to take these actions now for the long term of the institution, rather than to spend $65,000 next year, and $80,000 the year after that, and $100,000 the year after that."

Besides, Hilliard points out, this year's investment will be covered by rebates from CU's self-insurance policy, which pays the university back if it doesn't use all of the funds set aside for potential problems. As such, "no one's tuition will be going up because of this -- not that it would anyway for $124,000," Hilliard says.

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Of course, critics of CU will continue to believe this money could have been spent on far more important things, as Hilliard well knows. "The popular perception is that this is a harmless event," he concedes. "But in the hearing" -- attorney Rob Corry's failed challenge to the campus closure -- "I think we made a really clear case that this thing is enormously disruptive. We had thousands of people blocking entrances to buildings where students were trying to go to class and faculty were trying to teach, and students who had too much of one substance or another throwing up in our bathrooms or walking randomly into buildings. And while it's difficult to put a dollar amount on lost research and productivity time for faculty and students, there are definitely costs there as well."

With that in mind, Hilliard calls the overall allotment "a worthwhile investment to make, so that the university is able to get control and get this off campus for safety reasons and the ability to conduct our basic work."

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More from our Education archive: "Photos: CU-Boulder touts 4/20 success despite boundary breech, concert disaster."

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