The Cornell Republicans said they paid the University $5000 in security fees for the Rick Santorum event it hosted last November.

Michael Wenye Li / Sun Staff Photographer

The Cornell Republicans said they paid the University $5000 in security fees for the Rick Santorum event it hosted last November.

March 2, 2017

The Cost of Conservatism at Cornell: Groups Claim Hosting Conservative Speakers Comes With Added Expenses

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The right to speak on Cornell’s campus is a “paramount value,” one upon which the University has an “essential dependence,” according to the Campus Code of Conduct. In fact, the administration is so committed to free speech that even finding a speaker’s cause to be “evil” would not justify suppressing that speaker — doing so, the University writes, would be “inconsistent with a university’s purpose.”

But some groups that have hosted conservative speakers on campus are not buying the administration’s rhetoric, citing the thousands of dollars they have been asked to pay the University for security at their events.

And they say it is a cost that hosts of conservative speakers disproportionately have to bear.

“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 ’17, president of the Cornell Political Union.

Several weeks ago, CPU made a lecture by Tea Party activist Michael Johns private after the University discovered that students planned to protest Johns’s speech and subsequently charged the group $1,700 for security. The charge would have bankrupted the union, which receives only $1,000 in funding per semester.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

A Cornell Police officer stood outside of Michael Johns’ lecture and monitored protests outside.

Of the nearly 20 speakers CPU has brought to campus, all of these speakers — including those who, like Johns, are not Cornell professors — have been liberal, LeCaire said.

“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 said. “I think Michael Johns was our first speaker who could be considered right of center.”

Johns was also the first speaker in CPU’s history that came with a security fee, according to LeCaire.

The Cornell Republicans are no stranger to these fees either. Last semester, the group was charged $5,000 — an entire semester’s worth of funding — to secure the infamous Rick Santorum event, where protesters repeatedly shouted down the former United States Senator during his speech, according to Olivia Corn ’19, the group’s president.

The Cornell Republicans also paid security fees in the hundreds of dollars for its fall 2015 and spring 2016 speakers — political activist Ward Connerly ($228) and FOX News personality Kimberly Guilfoyle ($472.50), respectively, according to the group’s former president, Mark LaPointe ’16.

Neither LaPointe nor Corn could recall a security fee anywhere near the $5,000 for Santorum, but both agreed that the 2016 election was a contributing factor to the exceptional cost.

Meanwhile, the Cornell Democrats have not payed anything in security fees to the University within the past few years, according to Kevin Kowalewski ’17, the group’s president.

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

Corn said that the University’s security fees “foste[r] the shutting down of free speech,” and added that making student groups pay for security is irresponsible on the University’s part.

“It’s not my job to make sure the students of this University are safe. It’s the University’s job,” Corn said.

LeCaire said that the University’s policy precludes CPU from inviting the full range of speakers it would like to.

“I think we want to invite more conservative speakers. Whether or not we’ll have the capacity to is uncertain,” LeCaire said. “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.”

For Corn, what is equally frustrating is that other College Republican groups have told her that their universities generally cover security costs for high-profile, controversial speakers.

Last month, NYU paid around $10,000 to secure a lecture hosted by the NYU College Republicans, according to the NYU group. The group itself had to pay nothing.

The Penn College Republicans told The Sun that Penn provides free “open expression monitors” that “are essentially security that protects from disruptions.” But the group would have to foot the bill for any security beyond these monitors, according to the Penn Republicans. The Columbia Republicans also pay for its own security, according to the group.

Cornell’s leadership maintains that its policy “is similar to policies in place at many of our peer institutions” and “reflects the reality of demands on the Cornell University Police.”

Cornell is not the first school to impose high security costs on groups bringing controversial speakers. As early as 2009, FIRE — a nonpartisan free speech advocacy group — called security fees “the new censorship tool of choice among administrators,” according to FIRE’s website. Security fees have not always been used against conservative speakers either.

Last September, DePaul University charged a budding student socialist group — the DePaul Socialists — hundreds of dollars for police officers to protect the group’s first fall meeting, according to FIRE.

In a petition to DePaul’s administration, the DePaul Socialists wrote that the security fee “effectively discourages groups that work independently of the university administration from bringing speakers to campus, denying students the right to choose from whom they learn.”


Both Corn and LeCaire said that the University was only part of the problem. The other part, they said, was general intolerance for conservative views on a liberal campus.

“There’s just a lack of tolerance for conservatives in general [on campus]. The day after the election I was assaulted. I didn’t even support Donald Trump. I have random people come up to me all the time and yell in my face about how I’m a dreg on a society. The newest thing — that I hate — I have people coming up to my dorm room to have 30 minute conversations with me about why they dislike what I believe in,” Corn said.

And neither Corn nor LeCaire see a comparable movement to suppress speech on the right.

“I don’t think there is an equivalent on the right. It’s solely limited to liberal students, that certain ideas are so reprehensible, are so immoral — or at least they are perceived to be this way — that they should not be given a platform. I think that’s dangerous,” LeCaire said, before clarifying that he would not invite people to campus like Richard Spencer, whose views are “so fringe and so

But from one protester’s perspective, the true danger lies in the views that some conservative speakers bring to campus.

“Many conservative policies directly threaten minority students at Cornell. Fear of Cornell students being empowered by far-right rhetoric is a safety concern,” said Julian Goldberg ’19, who was one of the protesters inside the Santorum event. “While understanding these views can be valuable, it is important that they are always presented in a stigmatized context, so that no one is confused about what is acceptable on this campus.”

The Next Step

LeCaire said that the experience of CPU and the Cornell Republicans in trying to bring conservative speakers to campus should cause the University to reflect on its policy.

“We need to take a look at our policies and ask ourselves, ‘Are we being accepting of all ideologies?’ I think the answer is no, and if everyone agrees with me then changes need to be made,” LeCaire said.

For CPU’s part, the group “will continue to work to ensure that our speaker lineup represents true ideological diversity, not just what this campus considers mainstream,” LeCaire said.

The Cornell Republicans, despite having taken a financial hit with Santorum last semester, plan to bring another high-profile speaker to campus this semester.

And Corn thinks that the forthcoming spring 2017 speaker could elicit an “even worse” reaction from the campus due to past controversy surrounding the speaker.

  • John Galt

    Conservative speakers “come with extra expenses” only because the university has tolerated violence among its faculty and students to the point that they feel empowered to destroy anyone or thing with which they don’t agree (i.e. they’re “triggered”)

    That’s the fault of the universities board etc.

  • Ralph Palmer

    This is the main reason I have not contributed to the university for the past 4 years. I thought it was bad during the early 1980’s of the Reagan administration but this is over the top

    • Brynn

      Contribute to the Cornell Republicans instead!! Their chairwoman is Olivia Corn you can look up her net ID to contact her

  • John Michaels

    Michael Johns is not controversial. He has never said or done anything that could even be remotely construed as hate speech (I’m contrasting him with Rick Santorum). It’s like these protestors heard the words “Tea Party” and they became like flies going towards a bug zapper. There’s no reasoning with them.

  • Jason

    It’s as if the university is prejudging that the left will be violent before the event even kicks off. That they request security fees demonstrates that.

    History tells us, the left ALWAYS gets violent. So in that regard, they are probably right to be prejudice.

    There are so few events at this school I find interesting to even attend. Events on economics and history I would be more than happy to come to see, but it’s pretty sad there is so little discussion going on I find interesting at this once great university.

  • an undergrad

    This is a fantastic article. Thanks for bringing this to light!

  • Plan better

    Any event that has a potential large crowd has to pay for security and police (slope day, senior week, concerts, orientation, commencement to name a few) Stop complaining about lack of university support when it’s clearly poor planning. As a liberal campus, you know that your speakers will draw protests and you have the capability to ask for more funding to offset your costs. Get sponsors, charge a cover, or have a bake sale. There are so many options.

    • Liberals Suck

      Here is my option. Require protesters to get a permit in order to protest. Charge enough to cover security.

      • wtf

        “Hello, yes, I’d like to purchase 1 free speech with a side of freedom to assemble. How much does that cost?” – charging money for exercising innate rights. Sounds like a great plan.

        • ben

          So you are OK with requiring conservatives groups being forced to pay so that they can exercise their free speech? Got it.

      • Left-y Protester

        They already require us to get permits… We just, uh, elect not to 🙂

    • Brick

      “Clearly poor planning”

      They already plan to get police, the university just requires them to get more and pay an exorbitant amount after leftist protesters make threats against the lives of the speakers. Don’t be an imbecile.

      Also, until this year, plenty of conservative speakers have come to campus without protests.

      tl;dr: read the goddamn article and get it through your head that other schools don’t have this problem

  • a middle-of-the-road alum

    To “Plan better”: The events you list have security costs that are covered by the university. No student group or club has to pay for security for those events (with the possible exception of concerts). As for the various options you list, the whole point is that the liberal groups don’t have to do those things. So the university is effectively penalizing conservative groups.

    • Plan Better

      Incorrect – with the exception of commencement all other groups are run by students and are required to apply for bi-line funding.

      • a middle-of-the-road alum

        While Orientation may be run by students, they do not cover the cost of any security.

        • Plan Better

          Orientation, Slope day, and Senior week, and CCC are all registered student organizations receiving funding from SAFC for their events from the Student Activity Fee. As someone who worked with these groups, I know that their funding is based on a budget which includes security for their events. I’m failing to see how students are not paying for it. CPU could very well allocate spending for security in their budget and avoid the problem.

  • Dave Williams, ’75, ’94

    Gee, maybe if the oh-so-tolerant, loving, and inclusive left weren’t so hell-bent on suppressing free speech, the security costs for normal American speakers wouldn’t be so high. Just sayin’.

  • Grad Worker at Cornell

    “And neither Corn nor LeCaire see a comparable movement to suppress speech on the right.”

    Yeah, right on! Wooooo… the Right just suppresses (certain) persons’ right to vote, due process of law, the free exercise of religion…

    Anyway, the nonstop intimidating, coercing and threatening of the press from the highest office in the land can surely be seen as an attempt to “suppress speech on the right”…

    But I’m confused. If you choose to have a private event so that you don’t have to face protestors, I don’t really get why you shouldn’t expect to pay for the privilege. I thought that was what conservatives love about the free market and privatization: choice! Why don’t they get a Koch Brothers sponsorship?

    • Brick

      You have a bizarre understanding of what happened with the Michael Johns event, and the wider campus climate. Think before you comment.

  • Jake

    Grad Student- it is amazing you made it to grad school. You are a dunce. What is your field? Gender studies?

    • Grad Worker at Cornell

      No, unfortunately! But I did receive a law degree before I came here. I’m really stupid, so my law-learning place gave me a bunch of merit scholarships because they felt really sorry for me since I’m so dumb, and then I didn’t have any debt! Maybe the Cornell Graduate School also felt sorry for me. Cuz I’m dumb.

      I learned some learnings about sex and gender discrimination in the law-learning place. I now understand how, for example the state discriminates against individuals on the basis of sex, relying on outdated gender norms for its justification, that ironically causes real harm to families and chil–errrr, I mean, that made me dumber.

      It’s possible that getting a law degree might be what has made me so dumb: all those pages of case law and the Constitution saying “protesting in public is also a First Amendment right” and “if you want to make a public event private, expect to pay for it yourself” and “if someone doesn’t like your speech, you can’t get the state to shut them up for you” over and over and over again…yep, that must be it! 🙂

      • ben

        Your chances of making it as a comic are pretty dismal.

      • Jake

        Apparently you could not get a job as a lawyer. So you have decided to become a career student, sucking off of financial aid while studying some useless shit. And shocker! You are a liberal. Some things never change.

        • Grad Worker at Cornell

          I am a lawyer, attracted to the option of teaching people to help contribute to the production of better lawyers and citizens generally. Knowing how one’s civil rights really work and remembering to keep public and private goods separate is a nice thing for sentient beings to have in their back pockets, wouldn’t you agree?

          I’m sure you’ll also agree that I have no obligation to remove myself from any marketplace, and if some institution decides to let me suck it while I study shit, as you so eloquently put it, then that’s the way it should work. Or are you trying to shame me into giving up my god-given right to compete as an individual among individuals in whatever market I choose? That sounds pretty socialistic…

          Many young bucks try to employ assumptive and crude arguments like yours, in fact, and that just isn’t effective in most cases, so I try to help them *before* they apply to law school and waste theirs and others’ time and money.

          A little service I’ve decided to provide to myself and my future colleagues… 🙂

  • erbe

    What a misleading title!

    The title should be ‘Cost of violence-prone leftist protests’

  • Jake

    So requiring conservative groups to pay thousands of dollars in security to stage their events is not deemed to infringe free speech but making a voter pay $20 to get ID is blatant voter suppression? No wonder Democrats lost the election.

    • Brick

      I agree with your general point, but it’s worth noting that most states that have created voter ID laws have simultaneously made picture IDs free for those who can’t afford it. So it’s really making a voter pay $0.

  • Teapot Domehead

    I thought it was the JOB of the campus police to provide security? Now they demand extra for doing their job? DISGRACEFUL!!!

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  • borris batanov

    Still another passive-aggressive, backhanded attempt by the Left to censor dissent. The hypocrisy, intolerance and narrow-mindedness of Progressives has no limits.

    The campus is so fascist because it’s protected and not accountable to America.

  • Kelly

    Not that I disagree with the idea that liberal and conservative groups should be treated equally with regards to paying for security, but I do find it amusing that the Cornell Republicans are effectively arguing that they want the cost of security to be socialized.

    • You (Should) Get What You Paid For

      You mean they aren’t paying tuition? A 4 year bachelors degree currently costs north of a quarter of a million dollars at Cornell. Surely that should already cover basic functions for a university.

      • Kelly

        I am the parent of a student at Cornell, so I well aware of the cost. My point is that the Republican is saying that everyone should pay equally into the system, but then groups that need to take more out of the system, in this case, conservatives, for extra security, should be subsidized by groups that need to take less out of the system, in this case, liberals. The free market approach would be: if you need more, you pay for more.

        • Ben

          Kelly- If there really was a free market, there would be no financial aid.

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  • Lets Be Fair Here!

    Why not provide equal pot of security funds to both political arenas? Although it would seem wasteful to provide security to democract or liberal-minded speakers to campus if unnecessary, but at least it would ensure that guests of all backgrounds are provided fair and equal access to the students on this campus.

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