The conservative youth organization Young America’s Foundation sent a letter to the University last Wednesday demanding the rescission of a $654 security fee charged to Young Conservatives of Texas after they hosted former Senator Rick Santorum, R-Penn., last November.
Claiming viewpoint discrimination and negligence of constitutional rights, the letter also includes a request for the campus security fee system to be revised from its current policy, which relies on police assessments of the potential for conflict at an event. YCT called for a system that relies solely on factors that can be predetermined without knowing the content of the speech.
“The current security fee system abuses the First Amendment freedoms of UT-Austin students,” the letter reads.
Before hosting Santorum’s lecture, YCT was required to attend a consultation with the UT Police Department to determine the number of police officers necessary. This consultation is mandatory for all student events hosted on campus, UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said.
Univerity spokesman J.B. Bird said the line of questioning carried out by UTPD before events is a long-standing process that fits with the constitutionally required “content-neutral” approach.
“I can’t emphasize enough that this is a procedure that goes on routinely with a wide array of speakers and events,” Bird said. “We always ask those questions and then we plan accordingly if we think we need additional officers — but we don’t charge the organization for that. And that’s part of the content-neutral approach that we’ve followed for many years. The law has been settled since 1992 on this.”
The police staffing deemed adequate for an event is based on both its expected size and complexity, UTPD Captain Charles Bonnet said in an email to YCT.
“When staffing an event, UTPD requests information about the event to determine basic staffing levels billed to the organizers and whether extra staff may be needed,” Bonnet said in the email. “We also may add officers if we believe there will be counter-protesters or others attempting to disrupt the event, but those costs are (borne) by the University and are not billed to the event organizers.”
However, the invoice sent to YCT in November charged the group $654, an amount which covers the presence of five officers and not the two officers for which the group organizers were told they’d have to pay, according to the organization.
Bird said a clerical error was responsible for the incorrect charge and the University has since corrected the charge to $128.
“It’s actually very straightforward,” Bird said. “We’ve done this for years, we have a very, very established process and it’s something the University takes very seriously, so we were glad they brought this to our attention.”
YCT spokeswoman Ashley Vaughan said she had initially “reluctantly requested” only one police officer for the event, believing it should not have merited any officers at all.
Vaughan said YCT is working to dismiss the fee.
“We are working with YAF to request they rescind the fee in full,” Vaughan said. “We believe the questions that were asked to us in consultation are discriminatory and unconstitutional, and that has tainted the entire process and we should not be charged because of that.”
Bird said the current system is intended to keep students safe rather than to discriminate against any organizations.
“The notion that there’s some kind of attack is incorrect,” Bird said.
Correction: The original article did not include the corrected charge of $128. The Texan regrets this error.