Former vice president Richard “Dick” Cheney will speak to Cornell students in Ithaca this spring at a lecture hosted by the Cornell University College Republicans, the group announced on Monday evening.
Cornell Republicans hope Cheney, who served as George W. Bush’s vice president from 2001 to 2009, will be a “conversation starter” and bring a wealth of knowledge to campus from his 40 years in and out of government, the group’s president, Austin McLaughlin ’18, said in an interview.
“The man has been everywhere in government” except in the judiciary, McLaughlin said, adding that he is excited to hear from a politician who had served in government for so long.
Cheney’s visit — which follows less than a year after his successor, Joe Biden, addressed graduating seniors at Cornell’s convocation — is likely to revive a debate over whether Cornell should subsidize security fees for private events.
The Cornell Republicans executive board has met with administration members and Cornell Police officials, who have indicated that Cornell may be moving to a venue-based model of charging security fees, McLaughlin said. The University has not announced any change in its policy.
A Sun analysis last year found that Cornell Republicans had paid nearly $6,000 to Cornell in a two-year period for security for conservative speakers, including $5,000 for former Sen. Rick Santorum, a Republican who was repeatedly interrupted during his lecture in November 2016. The Cornell Political Union also chose to make a Tea Party leader’s lecture private rather than pay a required $1,700 for security.
Cornell Democrats’ president last year, Kevin Kowalewski ’17, said in 2017 that he did not know of a time when the group had hired security for a speaker, although that is likely in part due to the fact that the group does not host big-ticket speakers like the Cornell Republicans. It’s unclear if a popular Democratic speaker would require the same amount of security at Cornell as Santorum and Gingrich have.
When Brigham Young University announced in 2007 that Cheney would speak at the college’s commencement, a rare protest broke out on the largely-Republican, Mormon campus.
Following The Sun’s report on security fees, Cornell began a trial policy in which the University subsidized 90 percent of security fees for events that required a police presence. Cornell paid $4,500 of the $5,000 in security fees required for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s lecture at Cornell last March.
“Most of it is out of our control, but we are very well prepared for whatever happens,” McLaughlin said.
The event will be free and open to the public, but attendees will need tickets to get in. Tickets will be available at Willard Straight Hall beginning sometime in March.
McLaughlin said Cheney is a “fresh” choice for the annual Cornell Republicans event, noting that Cheney has largely been out of the news since 2009. A movie portraying Cheney’s life — starring Christian Bale as the vice president — is expected to be released later this year.
“It will be exciting to get him,” McLaughlin said. “He’s old and wise, as they say, so I think it’ll be great to hear his perspective.”
Before he served as vice president, Cheney, 76, led Halliburton, an energy industry company, as CEO. Wyoming voters elected Cheney to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978, where he served until 1989, when he was appointed secretary of defense under President George H.W. Bush.
Cheney has written several books, including a memoir with his daughter, Elizabeth Cheney, who was elected as a U.S. representative from Wyoming last year.
While Cornell sponsored Biden’s address in May, Cheney’s visit is funded by Cornell Republicans, its donors and the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth organization, McLaughlin said. He declined to say how much Cheney charged to speak at Cornell, although a Politico report in 2010 said the former vice president charged $75,000 in 2009, citing a person familiar with the fees.
Cheney does not appear to have any direct connection to Cornell, although two Cornellians once named a slime-mold beetle after the vice president while he was still in office.
In 2005, Cornell Prof. Quentin Wheeler, entomology and plant science, and Kelly B. Miller, Ph.D. ’01, labeled 65 new species of beetles and named three in honor of Cheney, the younger Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, the former secretary of defense. Wheeler was cryptic in an interview with The Sun at the time, saying his and Miller’s naming of the 65 beetles — one of which they called A. cheneyi Miller — was neither a political decision nor based on the beetles’ features.
“When leaders do what they believe is the right thing and it is popular we owe them our thanks,” he wrote in an e-mail in 2005. “When they do what they believe is right and it is unpopular, they deserve our admiration.”
Wheeler, now the president of SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, said in 2005 that he named the beetles after citizens that showed great “character and resolve sticking to their principles in the face of stiff opposition.” Neither Wheeler nor Miller immediately responded to emails on Monday night.
Asked about the beetle connection on Monday night, McLaughlin said, “Is that worthy of a comment? I don’t think so.”
Cheney grew up in Nebraska and Wyoming and studied at Yale before earning a B.A. and M.A. at the University of Wyoming.
Feb. 2, 2018: This article has been updated to clarify the security fees paid by campus organizations.