The Arizona Desert Lamp

UA messes with FIRE, gets burned

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 6 July 2009

While the university has long cried foul to David Horowitz’s jeremiads (not, as Ben Kalafut points out, entirely without cause), the school apparently engaged in quite a bit of chicanery of its own behind the scenes of his Tucson visit. From the blog of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE):

Horowitz spoke on April 7 at an event sponsored by the College Republicans. A few days before the event, the Dean of Students Office contacted the University of Arizona Police Department (UAPD) regarding security for the event. On April 3, UAPD Commander Robert Sommerfeld informed College Republicans President Ryan Ellison that if the group did not request two UAPD officers for security at the event, he would recommend that the event be shut down. In order to avoid having the event canceled, the College Republicans acceded to the UAPD’s demand.

The event proceeded without any problems, and on April 19 the group received an invoice of $384.72 for the security. A June 8 e-mail from Anjelica Yrigoyen, Special Event Coordinator for the UAPD, specifically linked the security fee to the controversial nature of the event.

After being pressured to pay the bill, the College Republicans turned to FIRE for help. On June 10, FIRE wrote University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton, pointing out that any requirement that student organizations hosting controversial events pay for extra security is unconstitutional because it affixes a price tag to events on the basis of their expressive content. FIRE cited the Supreme Court’s decision in Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement (1992), which states, “Listeners’ reaction to speech is not a content-neutral basis for regulation. … Speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.”

FIRE’s letter to President Shelton (among others) offers a comprehensive summary of the problem, as well as an overview of the legal precedent . Thankfully, FIRE’s legal threats prevailed, and the UAPD decided to “absorb the charges.” Lest you think that the UA is a stalwart of civil liberties, the release reminds us that the school is simply following in the footsteps of its predecessors:

The University of Arizona therefore joins the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and the University of California, Berkeley, each of which this year has recognized the Forsyth precedent and has refunded excessive security fees after intervention by FIRE.

Still, it’s nice to know that in this case, the UA adheres to the rules, rather than defying them. Kudos to the CRs for challenging the charge.

3 Responses

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  1. d said, on 6 July 2009 at 1:00 pm

    It has swung both ways. A few years ago Refuse & Resist/The World Can’t Wait had to cancel a music and arts event on the mall because UAPD wanted over $1,000 for security. Oh, and UAPD found out about it because they were monitoring the club’s website.

  2. When worst comes to worst my peoples come first said, on 12 July 2009 at 11:31 pm

    You know how I feel about the police. Protect and serve my ass. More like harass and arrest.

  3. Emily said, on 15 July 2009 at 11:39 am

    As far as I l know, any event with a significant amount of students participating on campus needs security. This is interesting though, and I would be curious to look more into it.

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