Some experts said it would be difficult for President Trump to significantly cut federal funding to UC Berkeley over the protests that prevented outspoken conservative Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at an event Wednesday.
"If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?" Trump wrote on Twitter.
The White House has not said whether Trump was actually threatening to cut funding or making some kind of rhetorical point.
Terry Hartle, vice president of the American Council on Education, said there were instances in which federal funding to universities could be legally halted.
They included violating Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination; barring military recruiters from campus; and fraud. However, Hartle said Trump cannot cut funding because of alleged denial of 1st Amendment rights.
"There is no current law allowing funding to be stopped for alleged unwilingness to hear another's point of view," said Hartle, whose organization represents 1,600 universities and colleges.
"Congress would have to give the president legal authority to do it, but it would be problematic."
The larger UC system, for which Berkeley is the flagship campus, receives billions of dollars from the federal government to fund a variety of programs, notably research, student aid and healthcare programs.
The UC system receives more than $8.5 billion in federal dollars for education, research and healthcare — a significant chunk of the system's $25-billion budget. Federal funds are UC's single largest source of research dollars, amounting to more than $3 billion.
Yiannopoulos' talks, and attempts to talk, at other campuses, including UC Davis, have generated protests and anger from students and faculty, but top UC officials have generally said they believe he has a right to speak.
Dan Mogulof, a UC Berkeley spokesman, said campus officials went to "extraordinary lengths" over weeks of planning to help the Berkeley College Republicans prepare for the event.
Dozens of police officers were brought in from nine of the University of California's 10 campuses to assist, he said. But it was not enough to prevent what Mogulof said was an "unprecedented" assault on campus.
In a statement posted to their website Thursday, the Berkeley College Republicans thanked campus police and university officials for "doing all they could to ensure the safety of everyone involved."
"Last night, the Berkeley College Republicans' constitutional right to free speech was silenced by criminals and thugs seeking to cancel Milo Yiannopoulos' tour," the statement read. "Their success is a defeat for civilized society and the free exchange of ideas on college campuses across America."