In wake of the Milo Yiannopoulos event sponsored by the College Republicans Jan. 31, controversy arose about Cal Poly’s security fee policy.
Shortly after the event, Cal Poly’s Muslim Student Association (MSA) voiced its dissatisfaction with the university’s actions concerning fees.
The group cited the security fees it was charged for the MSA West Annual Conference that took place at Cal Poly Jan. 15-17, 2016 while the Cal Poly College Republicans had their fees waived for the Yiannopoulos event.
Cal Poly said it changed its policy in September, deciding to not charge student clubs for security fees incurred for speaking events.
Joy Pedersen, associate dean of Students for Student Support, Success and Retention, cited instances during an Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) board meeting on Feb. 8 where clubs, including College Republicans, were charged a security fee prior to this September decision.
“Prior to this past September, all clubs were paying for their own security and facilities,” Pedersen said. “It was in April the College Republicans paid $400 to $500 for security for a smaller event. The MSA paid for their own security on the facilities for the conference.”
The university referenced a lawsuit filed by the Young America’s Foundation against California State University (CSU) Los Angeles in May of 2016 instigated by a $600 security fee on students and alleged obstruction of students entering an event featuring conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro as one of the chief motivations for the policy change.
However, the university did not reveal this until several days after the issue had gained media attention.
Cal Poly officials initially told The Tribune that the university did not have a written policy regarding security fees. Cynthia Lambert, a communications specialist for the Office of University Communications, later stated that this information was not publicly announced because it was not necessary.
“Cal Poly simply changed its practice of charging student clubs for extra security as of the beginning of this academic year,” Lambert said. “It made this change to ensure all student club activities are treated in a consistent, viewpoint-neutral manner. The university would have openly discussed this change with anyone who inquired, but it was never of public interest until recently.”
Stephen Lloyd-Moffett, associate professor of religious studies and faculty adviser for MSA, criticized this practice, stating that all parties involved should have been notified of this change.
“It undoubtedly is convenient that, after three days of bad press, [we] discovered that they changed the policy,” Lloyd-Moffett said. “If they changed the policy, they should have made everybody aware of this back in September … Not reveal it after three days of bad press.”
Lloyd-Moffett launched a petition Feb. 4 calling for the university to reimburse MSA with the $4,888 they paid to Cal Poly in security fees. However, Cal Poly says there is nothing to reimburse.
“The university covered the costs of security for the MSA West event through Cal Poly division and department sponsorships,” Lambert said.
Vice President of Student Affairs Keith Humphrey told The Tribune that the administration worked with MSA West to organize the event through the Cal Poly MSA — a club recognized by ASI — to lower the club’s costs.
Initially, the university distinguished the two events by labelling the College Republicans’ event a free speech activity protected under the First Amendment. Lloyd-Moffett countered this argument, noting its ambiguity and narrow interpretation of the First Amendment as causes for concern.
“First, the university has no category called ‘free speech activity,’” Lloyd-Moffett said. “There’s no box you can check that grants you free protection because you are engaged in a free speech activity. Second, all public speaking is a free speech activity. The idea that Milo’s talk was uniquely a free speech activity suggests one doesn’t understand the First Amendment. Third, within the First Amendment is a protection for religion and if any event is a free speech activity, the right of students to talk about their religion and its place in our society seems to fall under that. So, I think that was an attempt to create a distinction that didn’t actually exist.”
The university has changed the basis of its justification, maintaining the position that the College Republicans’ event was distinctly different from the MSA event because the MSA conference was initiated by an outside group — MSA West.
“In the case of the MSA West conference, it was not a student club, but an external organization which used the campus for an external event that included a three-day conference and required the university to house several hundred people in the Recreation Center for two nights. While Cal Poly was able to classify portions of the conference as a student club event, to help minimize costs, it was an external event that required extra security, which MSA West understood,” Lambert said.
However, in terms of how clubs were supported by external organizations, Lloyd-Moffett believes that the College Republican and MSA events were not as different as the administration states.
“The university wants to create a distinction in that the MSA club partnered with MSA West,” Lloyd-Moffett said. “College Republicans partnered with Breitbart and other groups to bring it in. I don’t think those are distinctions that are meaningful to most people who are looking at it from the outside … For it to be placed in a different category, it’s got to be a meaningfully different category.”
The university stated that it will review and possibly rewrite its current policy regarding security fees for student club events as early as Fall 2017.
Lloyd-Moffett commended the university for its support of the MSA in the past. He expressed his hope that the university uses this dispute as an opportunity to support inclusivity at Cal Poly.
“I’m working with the leadership of the Muslim Student Association to draft some suggestions for meaningful actions to demonstrate this support,” Lloyd-Moffett said. “The rationale for the petition was not based on administrative categories or policy, but based on fairness to treating groups on campus. And to the extent that there still is the perception that the Muslim students were treated differently, I think it’s important that the administration takes the opportunity to demonstrate their support for the Muslim students and for all vulnerable groups on campus.”
Lloyd-Moffett’s stance, as well as his aforementioned criticisms, were reiterated in his letter to the editor that was published by The Tribune Feb. 11. His petition is published on Change.org and accumulated 1,038 signatures as of Feb. 11.