Cornell students: security fees used to silence conservatives

Amber Athey
Investigative Reporter

  • Conservative groups are questioning Cornell University’s commitment to free speech, saying they’ve had to pay significantly more money in security fees than have liberal groups on campus.
  • The nonpartisan Cornell Political Union recently hosted its first right-of-center speaker, and claims it was the only time Cornell has ever required a security fee for a speech.
  • The president of the Cornell College Democrats corroborated the claims, saying he cannot recall ever having to provide extra security for a speaker, a condition commonly imposed on the College Republicans.
  • Conservative groups are questioning Cornell University’s commitment to free speech, saying they’ve had to pay significantly more money in security fees than have liberal groups on campus.

    The Cornell Political Union (CPU) recently hosted a speech by Tea Party activist Michael Johns, but had to make the event private because it could not afford a $1,700 security fee, reports The Cornell Daily Sun, noting that the amount would have exceeded the group’s entire budget of $1,000 for the semester.

    “We want to invite more conservative speakers...[but] basically we’re limited to low-profile conservatives.”   

    “The University, through its current policy—intentional or not—imposes additional financial and administrative costs on groups wishing to host conservative speakers,” said Troy LeCaire, president of CPU.

    Not only was Johns the first right-of-center speaker that CPU has ever tried to bring to campus, but he was the first one for which the university imposed an added security fee.

    “We have hosted someone who worked in the Obama administration, a former U.S. General under President Obama, and quite specifically, two Democratic politicians from the New York State Assembly, including the Speaker, arguably the most powerful Democratic state official,” LeCaire stated.

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    The Cornell Republicans tell a similar story. The group paid $5,000, an entire semester’s worth of funding, to provide extra security for Rick Santorum to speak on campus, only to see him heckled by protesters.

    Cornell tacked on security costs for even less prominent conservative speakers as well, including $228 for Ward Connerly and $472.50 for Kimberly Guilfoyle.

    Conversely, College Democrats President Kevin Kowalewski said he cannot recall his group every having to pay a single security fee in the past several years.

    “During my time at Cornell, no, the Cornell Democrats have not had to pay the university for security at any event where we brought a speaker,” Kowalewski confirmed. “We have never been informed that this was necessary.”

    LeCaire expressed concerns that such inconsistency significantly limits the ability of CPU and other groups to invite high-profile conservatives to campus, because most groups cannot afford the attendant security fees.

    “I think we want to invite more conservative speakers. Whether or not we’ll have the capacity to is uncertain,” LeCaire explained. “If Rick Santorum cost $5,000 [in security fees], there is no way we can afford to invite Rick Santorum or anyone of similar stature. So basically we’re limited to low-profile conservative people.”

    Cornell countered claims of discrimination, stating that its security fee process is similar to other schools and takes into account whether or not speakers will be “controversial.”

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    “Our policy on security fees—which is similar to policies in place at many of our peer institutions—reflects the reality of demands on the Cornell University Police,” spokesperson John Carberry told Campus Reform. “The university does ask all organizations to follow the event planning process, the form for which includes specific criteria that indicate whether an event should be registered—one of which is whether an event will be potentially controversial and thus require enhanced security measures.”

    At the same time, though, Carberry also asserted that each individual has the responsibility to “exercise our freedom of expression in a way that does not...infringe on the ability of others in our community to exercise their own freedoms.”

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @amber_athey





    Amber Athey

    Amber Athey

    Investigative Reporter

    Amber Athey is an Investigative Reporter for Campus Reform. She graduated from Georgetown University with a B.A. in Government and Economics, and is currently a member of the 2016-2017 Koch Associate Program. 

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