Stanford gives up on using ‘security costs’ to cancel conservative students event

March 22, 2014

By Joel Gehrke at Red Alert Politics

Conservative students at Stanford University won’t have to pay thousands of dollars in “security costs” to host an event on traditional marriage views, as the administration reversed course after the student group accused them of trying to tax free speech.

Stanford made it sound as if the policy change took place after administration officials found unexpected $20 bills in their laundry.

“Hi everyone. Found more funds to subsidize the full cost of the security, ” Nanci Howe, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Activities and Leadership, wrote in a Thursday email to the Stanford Anscombe Society.

The university with an $18.7 billion endowment initially told the Anscombe Society that it would have to pay $5,600 for security guards to protect their conference on “Communicating Values: Marriage, Family and the Media,” an event that would feature traditional marriage advocates such as the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson. The university issued the security requirement “after a vocal group of LGBTQ activists announced their opposition to the event,” according to the student group.

“This fee is a tax on free speech,” Judea Romea, co-president of the group, said Wednesday in calling for the university to drop the policy. “The student government shut us out, simply because some students don’t share our values. The University responded not by standing up for our freedom of speech, but by forcing us to hire security so that hecklers can’t disrupt our event or intimidate our guests.”

After media pressure and a formal complaint from the student group, the university decided to pay for the security itself.

First Amendment lawyer Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said that the Stanford’s motive for impeding the conference reflects a trend in campus free speech issues.

“It seems like students are increasingly using the argument that speech they dislike makes them feel unsafe,” he told Red Alert Politics during a Thursday evening interview. “Now, to me that’s a lot like crying wolf.”

Lukianoff said a “fundamental education problem” causes such violations, noting that even professors try to censor some students’ views, especially conservatives. For instance, he cited a University of California Santa Barbara professor who “got in a physical altercation with” pro-life students holding signs in opposition to abortion.

“Her claim after the fact was she was pregnant, so she felt triggered by the abortion protesters,” he said. “If you’re going to use something as powerful as saying that something ‘triggered me’ you have to use that carefully . . . what the people who use this in order to censor, they’re actually watering down what all of those terms mean at all.”

To change the campus culture, students need to change the legal culture, Lukianoff said.

“The unseen sort of engine behind a lot of this stuff is that universities are afraid of liability,” he explained. “They’re afraid of harassment and discrimination lawsuits and they’re also afraid of bad PR. And, right now, the likelihood of them getting sued for a First Amendment lawsuit is comparatively low. And, unfortunately, if you want to actually combat the legal incentive part of it, you’re going to have to actually rebalance that a little bit through lawsuits.”

“We need more students who are willing to challenge their campus speech codes because that will really ultimately make a difference,” he concluded.

Schools: Stanford University Cases: Stanford University: Viewpoint-Discriminatory Funding Retraction, Massive Security Fees for Student Group’s Conference