College charges student groups to host 'controversial' events

Student groups at Cornell University will now be charged a security fee when sponsoring “controversial” or “high-risk” events.  Depending on the type and size of event, groups can be charged “baseline fees” between $290 and $2,248.

While there is no objective standard of “high-risk” or “controversial,” Cornell does provide some guidelines as to what constitutes an event in need of security. The school’s guide tells groups to ask themselves a variety of questions, including, “Has a similar event been characterized as controversial or problematic by any media?” and “Does your gut tell you this event might be controversial?”

Ultimately, the Events Management Planning Team (EMPT), a committee comprised of administrators from various departments including campus police and the Dean of Students, will determine if an event is controversial or high-risk on a case-by-case basis.

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“EMPT will consider the size of the event, the physical features of a particular venue (like balconies and numbers of entrances and exits), whether the event is open access or ticketed, whether attendance is limited to members of the University, whether alcohol is served, if a dignitary is speaking, if an event could be seen as controversial or high risk, whether the event is after-hours, if there is fire involved, if there are inflatables involved, etc.,” the Event Security page says.

Cornell notes that if the security fees exceed the “baseline” estimate, the university will pay up to $1,000 of the additional costs to secure the event. However, any costs exceeding $1,000 will be covered by the student group.

“The assessment of any risk to health and safety has always been a high priority,” Cornell Senior Associate Dean of Students Mary Beth Grant told Campus Reform. “The [EMPT] works to support students in complying with all necessary safety requirements. The new guidelines reflect an effort to make the process more clear.”

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“Cornell University has a responsibility to ensure that campus events are planned with consideration for the safety of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors; and to maintain the ongoing operation of research and education activities on campus,” Grant added. “Sometimes planning for campus safety comes with practical costs that, to be fair to all students, should be shared by the university and the sponsoring organization creating the event. That’s been long-standing practice at Cornell, and these new guidelines are designed solely to make that practice predictable.”

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