Paying for Yiannopoulos security is ‘double standard,’ Poly Muslim student group says

Muslim students pray in January 2016 at Cal Poly as part of the 18th annual MSA West conference.
Muslim students pray in January 2016 at Cal Poly as part of the 18th annual MSA West conference.

Cal Poly’s Muslim Student Association is calling foul this week after the university opted not to charge the Cal Poly College Republicans for providing police security during the appearance of controversial right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos on Tuesday but charged the Muslim group a $4,888 security fee for a three-day conference it hosted on campus last year.

Cal Poly officials say the two events weren’t alike, deeming the Yiannopoulos event, which was sponsored by the Republican club, a free speech activity with First Amendment protections. The conference, hosted by the Muslim Student Association in January 2016, “was not a speech activity — it was a conference,” Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said.

Lazier said Cal Poly has no written policy for charging student clubs for security or facility rentals.

“Our practice has always been to reserve the right to charge for security and other expenses related to facilities use, if needed, on a content- and viewpoint-neutral basis,” Lazier said.

Stephen Lloyd-Moffett, the Muslim Student Association’s adviser and an associate professor of religious studies, criticized that viewpoint.

“It strikes me as a blatant double standard that Cal Poly will designate tuition dollars and state funds to protect someone who spews hate speech targeting vulnerable groups on this campus but then charges for the protection of one of the very groups that are the victims of that speech,” Lloyd-Moffett said.

In his rhetoric, Yiannopoulos has repeatedly targeted Muslims as prone to violence, radicalism and gang rape.

Alian Ali, the Muslim club’s event coordinator, said his group didn’t ask for a police presence beyond the usual University Police Department campus patrol during its three-day, two-night conference. The university, however, brought in California State University police to assist.

The regional conference used several university facilities, including the Chumash Auditorium in the University Union and the Performing Arts Center’s Harman Hall. Many students slept in a campus gym, and they held prayer on Baker Lawn throughout the weekend.

The club was charged about $12,000 by the university, which included facility uses, and almost $5,000 for security, Ali said. Cal Poly told the club the security was needed to ensure the safety of its about 1,000 participants, Ali said.

In contrast, the university announced this week that Cal Poly and the CSU system covered the combined $55,400 in security costs associated with the Yiannopoulos event. The Republican club also was not charged for the use of Spanos Theatre at Cal Poly.

“It’s not cool that the Muslim Student Association was treated one way, and the (Cal Poly College Republicans) were treated another way,” Ali said. “How is it justified that they were provided security for a speaker like Milo Yiannopoulos, and we weren’t?”

Ali added: “We didn’t ask for security, but we were told that it was needed. And four days before the event we got the bill. We could have used that money for other expenses.”

Cal Poly officials have said the heavy security for Yiannopoulos’ talk — 109 officers from seven agencies — helped to avert potential violence, given the unruly protests that have taken place on other college campuses where he has been scheduled to appear.

In an email to The Tribune in advance of Yiannopoulos’ appearance, Lazier wrote, “The university does not charge Recognized Student Organizations (i.e. student clubs through ASI) for use of campus facilities. And the University Police does not charge clubs for safety and security at club-sponsored events.”

That language changed, however, when The Tribune asked about charges to the Muslim student group.

On Friday, Lazier said, “We do not charge our recognized student clubs for security costs related to First Amendment activities involving protesting and potential violence. The club event on Jan. 31 (when Yiannopoulos spoke) was a clear free speech activity with many First Amendment issues involved.”

Lazier said the university also differentiated between a three-day event with students sleeping on campus and a one-time speaking event.

“Use of multiple campus facilities for the conference — including as temporary residences — required additional preparation, maintenance and (University Police Department) attention for an extended period,” Lazier said. “Therefore, the club was asked to absorb some of the operational costs. Specific to security, for example, they were asked to pay less than 20 percent of UPD’s overall costs of more than $29,000 to provide security for the multinight sleeping arrangements.”

Ali, however, said the club had several talks with the campus administration about the planning of the event, and organizers didn’t expect any protests or demonstrations, nor did they think extra security was necessary.

“Their role as (to) providing security during the overnight stay wasn’t specified, and there were no additional officers present after midnight besides the few that remain on campus usually,” Ali said. “And regardless of our overnight stay, the (campus police department) was present during the three days of the event, too, so why would we have to pay that cost ourselves?”

However, Cal Poly officials said that security was present for the duration of the event, police Chief George Hughes said.

“UPD and extra CSU officers were on security around the clock,” Lazier said. “There were times when officers were on the perimeters of the building — while students slept, for example — but they were on dedicated security detail at all times.”