EXCLUSIVE: This university attempted to charge conservative students $3.4k to host Ann Coulter until a state lawmaker intervened
The University of Houston originally quoted $3,410.38 for Young Conservatives of Texas to host Ann Coulter.
Students sought advice from Texas State Representative Briscoe Cain, who called and helped reduce the cost by informing a university representative that they could be violating the Texas Education Code.
The Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) chapter at the University of Houston (UH) was initially charged over $2,000 in safety fees for its Mar. 29 event with Ann Coulter.
University of Houston Student Centers initially provided YCT with an invoice that included a $2,624 charge to pay 15 police officers and two fire marshals for the two-hour event.
The overall charge calculated a grand total of $3,410.38. This included venue space and AV equipment and operation, according to documents obtained by Campus Reform.
A Center for Student Involvement representative pointed to controversy over Coulter on another campus as one reason, which a state representative later explained is a violation of the Texas Education Code.
After hearing these charges, UH YCT Chairman Mike Moore asked if previous College Democrats events hosted at the University of Houston were also required to have policing costs to be covered by the club.
Student Centers Sales & Events Manager Carlos Rodriguez replied that UHPD was present at the Beto event and that the College Democrats covered the cost. However, he would not state the total charge, how many police were present, nor whether it was subsidized by the university.
“Unfortunately, I cannot release any information that pertains to another group's account,” he told Moore.
O'Rourke was hosted on Apr. 2 at the University of Houston by the Texas College Democrats.
Moore also asked if these two events required stakeholder meetings to go over logistics and risks, as Student Centers told his organization their event would require under the school’s RSO Indoor Event Policy.
According to Assistant Director of the Center for Student Involvement Allyson Yolland, a stakeholder meeting was not required ahead of the O'Rourke event as it was allegedly not hosted by a student organization.
However, reporting by campus newspaper The Cougar credits the event to the UH Democrats.
Yolland claimed to have no information pertaining to the Hildago event from 2020 but did reference a Zoom event held in 2021 to discuss Covid-19. Yolland stated that since the meeting was online and did not pose an on-campus risk, no meeting was required, either.
The 2020 event is featured on the UH College Democroats Instagram in a January 2020 post.
Regardless, a meeting was still required ahead of Coulter's appearance.
“As your event is projecting a large audience, off-campus guests, and is political in nature, our office would meet with you all to talk about this event,” Yolland wrote to Moore in an email on Mar. 21st. “Additionally, when Ann Coulter was previously on a college campus there was a protest. With this past history, we decided to meet with you all.”
According to Cain, the school appeared to be in violation of Sec. 51.9315(h) of the Texas Education Code which states that higher education institutions may only consider "content-neutral and viewpoint-neutral criteria related to the needs of the event” when determining the fee charged for facility use.
These considerations include venue, audience size, anticipated need for campus security, necessary accommodations, and history of compliance or noncmpliance by the requesting student organization.
Cain also stated that the section explicitly prohibits consideration of “any anticipated controversy,” which the Center for Student Involvement potentially violated by naming a concern about protests against Coulter.
“Her statement that ‘your event ... is political in nature’ is certainly content based,” Cain wrote to Moore. “Her concern with ‘past history’ of Ann Coulture [sic] is also contrary to the spirit of Sec. 51.9315(h)(1)(D) as this is not related to your organization's history.”
Cain then spoke with UH Vice President for Governmental Relations Jason Smith on behalf of the students, resulting in a reduction of required security and costs.
The Student Centers Associate Director sent Moore a revised confirmation with only two police and two fire marshals following Rep. Cain’s call.
Moore requested an invoice without the fire marshals, stating it is the “economical choice” for his chapter and that they did not believe they would be needed.
Student Centers then sent another updated confirmation without the fire marshals on Mar. 25th, reducing the final safety charge to $288.00 for two police officers.
Cain told Campus Reform that the university did a good job taking corrective actions.
“It should be noted that after I contacted the University they were quick to look into things and take corrective action,” he said. “It was a good learning experience for them and I don't expect there will be similar issues for YCT in the future.”
Southeastern Legal Foundation Kimberly Hermann told Campus Reform that “universities frequently impose outrageous security fees that they know the students cannot pay” instead of prohibiting conservative student group events outright.
“This forces them to cancel the event,” Hermann said. “Fortunately, conservative students like Young Conservatives of Texas understand the First Amendment and when faced with this type of unconstitutional prior restraint, knew to fight back.”
However, UH Associate Vice President of Media Relations Shawn Lindsey affirmed to Campus Reform that viewpoints do not factor into university decisions on facility use.
“The University of Houston is committed to fostering a learning environment where free inquiry and expression are encouraged. Decisions about the use of campus facilities and related fees for expressive activity by students, faculty, and staff are not based on the content or viewpoint of a proposed expressive activity,” she said.
Lindsey did confirm that concern from the student organizers and indirect involvement from Cain resulted in a change.
“It is correct to say that state law provides that a university may not consider any anticipated controversy related to the event in determining the amount of a fee to be charged for use of the institution’s facilities,” she said. “The interactive process within the university did result in a change in the proposed fees.”
She also affirmed that other student groups are charged comparable security and policing fees.
Campus Reform reached out to Texas College Democrats; this article will be updated accordingly.