Cornell is picking up the tab for nearly all security fees associated with former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s lecture on Wednesday, a sudden change after years of charging security fees to organizations hosting controversial events.
The change comes less than two weeks after The Sun reported that conservative campus organizations paid nearly $6,000 in security fees for lectures since fall 2015 — most notably a $5,000 security charge for hosting Rick Santorum in November.
“Cornell University is currently reviewing its policy regarding security fees for campus events,” John Carberry, director of media relations, said in a statement. “While that process is underway, the Cornell University Police and the administration were happy to work with the College Republicans to reach an agreement on security support for the group’s upcoming March 22 event.”
Carberry did not respond to inquiries about when the policy review began or how much security is expected to cost, but members of Cornell Republicans said they were asked to pay $500 for two campus police officers — 10 percent of the $5,000 total cost.
Austin McLaughlin ’18, executive director of Cornell Republicans, said he and other stakeholders have met several times with Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, since the fall semester to discuss the security fees.
On Monday, Cornell Police notified McLaughlin and Olivia Corn ’19, chair of Cornell Republicans, that the University planned to pay the vast majority of the security cost for the Gingrich event.
“This is one of the best pieces of news that I’ve heard in the last couple of weeks,” Corn said of Cornell’s decision. “It showed us for the first time that the Cornell administration cares about our organization on campus and cares that we bring these wonderful speakers and put on these events.”
The shift is not an official change in policy, McLaughlin noted, and Gingrich’s lecture in Call Auditorium on Wednesday will act as a test-run for a potential, long-term shift.
Student protesters disrupted Rick Santorum’s event in November by shouting repeatedly at the former Republican senator. The Young Democratic Socialists’ Cornell chapter said in a tweet on Wednesday that protests at next week’s lecture are likely.
“We fully acknowledge both Mr. Gingrich’s and Cornell Republicans’ right to free speech; however, we also acknowledge that Gingrich has been dangerously instrumental in normalizing President Trump’s vile rhetoric and policies,” Cornell Young Democratic Socialists said in a statement, promising to “expose and vehemently oppose Gingrich’s destructive policies.”
One of the plans the University and Cornell Republicans are discussing, McLaughlin said, is an agreement that Cornell pay all security costs above a certain amount — possibly $500 — and also institute a ceiling for how much the University is willing to spend.
McLaughlin said the ceiling would be reasonable to protect the University from having to fork over tens of thousands of dollars to provide security for someone like Milo Yiannopoulos, a self-described provocateur whose scheduled event in February at UC Berkeley was cancelled after protests and property destruction.
“The argument is going to be about where the threshold should be,” McLaughlin said.
Cornell’s previous policy of not covering security fees, McLaughlin said, was effectively a policy that only hindered conservative groups on campus. The president of the Cornell Democrats previously told The Sun that the organization had not paid security fees in the last several years because security was not required for the group’s events.
Prof. William Jacobson, law, who has written about Cornell’s security fees on his conservative website, Legal Insurrection, said the short-term policy is “helpful,” but that even the greatly-reduced fee unequally affects groups hosting conservative speakers.
“[T]he reality on this campus is that right-of-center speakers are most likely to be deemed controversial or subjected to threats of disruption,” Jacobson said in an email. “As such, any security fee places a disproportionate burden on right-of-center speech, and serves as a form of heckler’s veto on conservative speech.”
Corn said she and other Cornell Republicans members would have had to bankrupt the campus group in order to pay the security fees if Cornell had not agreed to subsidize most of the cost. A donor covered Gingrich’s speaking fee, which is more than $50,000, Corn said.
With the policy review ongoing, McLaughlin said Cornell may create a working group after Gingrich’s lecture that comprises administrators, student government members, a CUPD representative and members of the affected groups.
The review comes at a time when many other Universities are moving away from subsidizing security fees, McLaughlin said.
Cornell “would be bucking the norm if [it] did this, which I think would be a good thing,” he said. “All of the administration kind of realizes what has happened so far and … that it’s really unfair to the discourse on campus.”
If the change is codified, McLaughlin said, it would allow groups like Cornell Republicans and the Cornell Political Union to invite conservative and right-leaning speakers without worrying about exorbitant security fees.
In the short-term, members of the Cornell Republicans plan to save the additional $4,500 they had expected to pay and use it to fund additional, future events.
“We’re also going to try and put on a really nice dinner for Mr. Gingrich,” Corn added.