Cal Poly says it dropped security fees for club events in September

Cal Poly officials said Tuesday that the university had changed its practice in September and quit charging student clubs security fees for speaking events. The explanation came after criticism from the Muslim Student Association that Cal Poly unfairly waived security costs for the College Republicans to host right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos last week but levied fees for an MSA event a year ago.

The university didn’t announce that decision publicly, nor did it mention the new practice in response to news media questions in recent days.

Dawn Theodora, Cal Poly’s legal counsel, said Tuesday that the university is working on a formal written policy for security costs in relation to student club events and hopes to complete it by the fall.

Theodora said most California State University campuses are revamping their policies regarding security fees after Cal State L.A. was sued in May over how it handled an appearance by a Breitbart editor there.

Last week, the Muslim Student Association’s adviser said that Cal Poly’s fee waiver for the Cal Poly College Republicans to host the Yiannopoulos talk on Jan. 31 was a “double standard” because the Muslim students were charged $4,888 for security costs for a three-day conference the group hosted in January 2016.

Cal Poly and the CSU system waived the combined $55,400 for their officers to provide security for the Yiannopoulos event. Those costs were absorbed by the university and CSU, using state funds.

A heavy police presence was used to protect the campus after protest groups threatened violence on social media, university officials noted.

On Tuesday, Keith Humphrey, Cal Poly’s vice president for student affairs, said that even without the new no-fee practice, the Muslim Student Association’s conference and the Yiannopoulos appearance would be treated differently. The Yiannopoulos speech was clearly a student club event, he said, while the conference was initiated by an outside group: the regional organization Muslim Student Association West.

The regional group approached Cal Poly two years ago about holding a conference on campus. As an off-campus group, it would be charged much higher fees.

Ultimately, Humphrey worked with the umbrella organization to plan the event through the Cal Poly Muslim Student Association, the organization’s Cal Poly chapter, at a much reduced rate. The campus group, rather than MSA West, then worked with administrators to plan the event.

“We held several meetings that resulted in a significantly discounted price for the organization to hold the conference on campus,” Humphrey said.

Theodora, the university’s legal counsel, said Cal Poly officials reviewed legal interpretations of charging security fees for campus talks hosted by student clubs, as well as the developments of controversial talks on campuses elsewhere, before changing its practice in September.

“We made that decision before we even knew Milo Yiannopoulos was coming,” Theodora said. “We had been watching different First Amendment activities across the country and state, and we made the decision that we shouldn’t be charging student clubs for security costs.”

Theodora said that developments at Cal State L.A. influenced the university’s new approach. Cal State L.A. levied and then dropped a $621 security fee for the campus’ Young Americans for Freedom chapter to host a February 2016 talk by conservative speaker and Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro.

Shapiro’s talk, titled “When Diversity Becomes a Problem,” drew a mass protest, and Shapiro had to be escorted into the building by police for his safety.

The university has since been sued by the Alliance Defending Freedom, made up of conservative Christian groups, alleging the university tried to interfere with Shapiro’s First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit said the violations included Cal State L.A.’s security fee policy. It also alleged that faculty members encouraged protesters to block access to the theater where Shapiro spoke, which left the theater half empty.

Theodora said a Cal Poly policy on security fees for student club events would go through a significant vetting process before approval.

Cal Poly officials said the Muslim student club was charged less than 20 percent of the University Police Department’s costs of more than $29,000 to provide security for the two-night, three-day conference, which included attendees sleeping in a campus gym.

The university charged the club about $12,000 in facility, security and staffing costs, which the club was able to cover. Humphrey said the Muslim Student Association received about $7,000 to $8,000 in university-related funding allocations for its conference.

Alian Ali, Cal Poly Muslim student club event coordinator, considered the Republican club waiver an inequity, though he acknowledged that Humphrey played a key role in helping to facilitate the Muslim student conference and reduce costs.

Ali declined comment Tuesday, saying he wanted to consult with club leadership before speaking publicly.

Cal Poly police Chief George Hughes said Tuesday that the university and the Muslim student club were concerned about safety, particularly because the conference came shortly after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

Hughes said that the College Republicans were charged an estimated $400 to $500 for security costs for two officers at a talk by conservative blogger Bill Whittle in April 2016, five months before the university adopted a new practice to waive those fees.

“Ultimately, the decision rests with me about whether security is needed,” Hughes said.

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