The Daily Telegraph has reported today on the University of Sydney’s selective charging of conservative students for event security.
IPA campus coordinator Renee Gorman has been forced to agree to pay ‘unlimited security fees’ for The Case for Coal event this evening, and previously students paid $760 for up to 10 security guards for an event on the Dangers of Socialism in August. This fee, which prevented the donation of ticket money to a Venezuelan family struggling under socialism, was required despite no protesters actually showing up.
The University of Sydney’s selective use of security fees is an attack on free speech. The University has a responsibility to not deter controversial speakers or ideas on campus.
As I told, the Daily Telegraph:
The Institute of Public Affairs research fellow Matthew Lesh slammed the fees as a “heckler’s veto”.
“It creates a strong incentive for students to disrupt events and make certain ideas unspeakable on campus,” he said.
“Students should not have to pay for bad behaviour.”
The University of Sydney justified the imposts by claiming that all students can be charged fees when they assess it to be necessary. However, the University appears to have only assessed it to be necessary for libertarian and conservative events, therefore placing the burden on some ideas and speakers and not others.
The use of security fees punishes, and can potentially exclude, unpopular or controversial speakers. It is the responsibility of the university to protect students, and provide for the extra security if required. In principle, the university should treat all events the same in order to ensure a diversity of voices can be heard.
For good reason, the US Supreme Court has declared the selective charging of security fees to be unconstitutional. ‘Listeners’ reaction to speech is not a content-neutral basis for regulation,’ the court declared in Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement, 505 U.S. 123 (1992). ‘Speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.’
The University of Sydney should follow the precedent set by the University of California at Berkeley which, in order to protect free expression, covers security costs of speakers – including over US$500,000 on two occasions this year.
This isn’t the first time the University of Sydney has been a difficult place for conservative students. In September, there were physical clashes and damage of property at a ‘No’ campaign stall on campus. In April, the student union attempted to block the screening of The Red Pill because it could ‘physically threaten women on campus’. Last year, the Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton was unable to speak on campus following the last minute cancellation of a venue booking due to potential security issues.
If the University is to live up to its role in society, to facilitate debate with a diversity of ideas, it should immediately declare that students should not have to pay for event security.
Photo credit: Daily Telegraph