On Thursday, Young America’s Foundation (YAF) demanded that the University of Texas (UT-Austin) fully rescind the viewpoint-discriminatory security fee imposed upon the Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) and offered university officials guidance on fixing the school’s unconstitutional speech policy. This is the second demand letter Young America’s Foundation has sent to UT-Austin. In response to the first letter (sent last week)
, UT-Austin reduced the security fee charged to YCT from $654 to $128 and apologized for basing the original fee on the content of the students’ speech, chalking it up to “human error.” In today’s letter
, YAF called for UT-Austin to rescind the revised $128 fee because the assessment was the result of viewpoint discriminatory questions and unbridled discretion, both of which are unconstitutional. “The fact that ‘human error’ is the University’s explanation for what happened is evidence that university officials employ unbridled discretion when assessing security fees for student-organized events,” said YAF Spokesman Spencer Brown. “The law doesn’t allow for university administrators to vary security fees based on their own whims. There shouldn’t be a security charge for YCT–period. The reduced security fee still smacks of the viewpoint discrimination that the original fee possessed. Charging the students less doesn’t make the charge constitutional.” In an attempt to help university officials reform school policy so that students’ First Amendment rights are respected, YAF offered the following guidance:
UT-Austin can prevent future abuses by adopting “narrowly drawn, reasonable and definite standards” and by applying these standards consistently. These standards do not need to be complicated; rather, in this area, simplicity is advisable.
YAF’s recommendation is for UT-Austin to assign each on-campus venue with its own unique standard security fee and to post these fees online. Every on-campus venue is unique in terms of size, location, accessibility, etc. But, by predetermining security fees for specific on-campus venues, UT-Austin can ensure that all students are treated fairly and that no student is punished on the basis of the content of his or her speech.
The bottom line is that discretion needs to be removed from the hands of university officials. Students should know what their security fee will be before meeting with UTPD, rather than being surprised by the size of a fee after an event, which was the case for YCT. By adopting the standards outlined above, UT-Austin can provide much needed transparency and predictability.
For further information or to cover this story contact Spencer Brown via phone (800-872-1776) or email ([email protected]).