The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
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By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Pitt no longer requiring College Republicans to pay for security fees following Knowles event

Police+stand+guard+outside+of+the+O%E2%80%99Hara+Student+Center+as+protests+rage+during+the+controversial+Michael+Knowles+debate+on+April+18th%2C+2023.
Amaya Lobato | Assistant Visual Editor
Police stand guard outside of the O’Hara Student Center as protests rage during the controversial Michael Knowles debate on April 18th, 2023.

Pitt is rescinding an $18,743 security fee previously charged to College Republicans for hosting the Michael Knowles event last semester, after receiving a letter threatening legal action against the University. 

After hosting a controversial debate between Michael Knowles and Brad Polumbo in April, Pitt’s College Republicans and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute were charged a security fee of $18,734 by the University, which included costs of Pitt police and other security measures for the event. Pitt rescinded the security fee via a letter on August 22.

The debate, which took place on April 18 at the O’Hara Student Center, received pushback from many students on campus who raised concerns about the safety of transgender and queer students on campus given the subject matter being about “transgenderism and womanhood.” Prior to the event more than 11,000 people signed a petition urging the University to cancel the debate and during the event more than 250 people protested outside. A husband and wife were also charged with three indictments for dropping two smoke bombs and a firework at the April 18 protest. 

On May 19, the University charged College Republicans with the security fee — a number that was not previously discussed with the organization. 

In response to the initial fee, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal representatives for both the College Republicans and ISI, threatened to take legal action against the University in a letter on June 5, calling the fee “unconstitutional” and an “infringement of free speech.”

In the letter ADF claimed the University demanded that both the College Republicans and ISI pay the fee very soon.

ADF Senior Counsel Philip Sechler said some of the chaos from the protest was caused by the actions of the University prior to the event, referring to former Provost Ann Cudd’s statement calling the event’s rhetoric “repugnant” and encouraging students to engage in “peaceful dissent.”

“Charging students more than $18,000 to host a campus event is prohibitively expensive speech — not free speech,” Sechler said.

The letter stated that the University violated the constitutional rights of Pitt College Republicans and ISI by “deliberately fomenting unrest designed to shut down the event,” placing high security fees and shutting down the event early. 

Sechler added the University cannot deem that some events pose security risks and cut them short, while letting opposing views host similar events on campus.

“If you’re going to allow students to have events, then you have to protect all speech and you can’t say, well, we can’t protect your speech, because it’s just not safe.”

University spokesperson Jared Stonesifer said Pitt rescinded the fee as a result of “miscommunication,” but added it is declining to pay the remaining costs associated with Knowles’ appearance. Pitt did not disclose what other costs it declined to pay.

“Upon reviewing communications among the parties — the University of Pittsburgh, the College Republicans student group and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute — the University concluded that there may have been a miscommunication about the $18,000 security fee. Given that, the University has rescinded the fee.”

The ADF letter also called the University’s event scheduling guidelines, specifically the security fee policies, as “fraught with problems,” stating that the policies give administrators “wide and boundless discretion.”

According to the guidelines it states, “the content and viewpoint of the speaker’s or performer’s message and the community’s reaction or expected reaction to the event will not be considered when determining the security fee to be paid by the hosting organization. If the University requires additional security that is beyond that which is assessed above, the University will bear all costs associated with that additional security.”

However, according to Dylan Mitchell, the president of College Republicans, the University “did not give an exact number.” Instead, it provided an estimate in the “low thousands” and later handed them a much higher fee. He added that Pitt said the reason for the security fees was because it was a “high-profile event.”

“When I found out that other student groups were not required to pay any security fee, I told the administration at the time that we were working with that we were not going to pay the security fee,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said he views the high security fee as a way for the University to “dissuade us from hosting future events.” He also believes the necessity for security was also prompted by the University encouraging “peaceful dissent” and calling the rhetoric “repugnant.”

Stonesifer said the University remains committed to upholding constitutional rights. 

“We are grateful to our Public Safety and Emergency Management professionals who worked diligently to keep both event attendees and demonstrators safe. The University remains committed to upholding constitutionally protected freedom of speech, while also supporting all members of our Pitt community through difficult moments and challenging conversations.” 

About the Contributor
Punya Bhasin, Assistant News Editor
Punya is an aspiring investigative reporter, and has worked at The Pitt News since her first semester freshman year. She has reported on Presidential rallies, protests, Covid-19 on campus and a number of stories aimed at holding the University accountable.