A Republican student group at Southern Methodist University successfully negotiated with administrators to host a conservative speaker on campus. The college initially overcharged the group for the venue – wanting $14,000 – but then reversed course after facing student pushback.
The university blamed the price-tag confusion on the private management company hired to book the McFarlin Auditorium. But students were left wondering whether or not the prohibitive price tag, which was triple the original quote, was politically-motivated discrimination.
For no small amount of time, the republican group had been looking forward to hosting Steven Crowder, a young conservative comedian. Crowder had previously visited campus for his I’m pro-life: Change My Mind events, and others.
Given the all too familiar trend of universities attempting to ban conservative speakers and restrict political dialogue, the students took every precaution to ensure the event could be organized successfully.
Initially, the students were told there would be no security concerns for the event, so the cost of renting necessary space at McFarlin Auditorium could be expected to total less than $5,000. After much time passed without any specific quote, the student group contacted McFarlin again and was informed there were suddenly extensive security and logistics concerns.
When the invoice for the event was finally presented to the College Republicans, it had almost tripled from the initial estimate. The McFarlin staff and the SMU Police Department levied a cost of almost $14,000 – more than any student-led organization could realistically afford.
The event on March 22 attracted 2,400 attendees, while only 60 protesters alongside a few university professors actually showed up. At least five police officers stood by behind barricades. It was over kill. Perhaps the liberal students protesting should have been invoiced for the security bill?
Imagine the “triggering” that would have caused!
But despite the overreaction by administrators to the alleged “security threat,” the majority of the $14,000 items were completely unnecessary – $2,000 was required just for “ushers,” as an example. Crowder even confirmed to students that all of his other events – usually with the same exact equipment requirements – had never suffered from similarly prohibitive expenses.
Fortunately, SMU agreed to negotiate down the cost. They agreed to contribute $2,500 to handle the security concerns. Through generous donations from attendees, the students were able to raise the extra funds necessary to pull together Crowder’s live broadcast.
Considering the extravagant range of the quotes presented to Republican students, one can only wonder what may have been happening behind the university’s closed doors. If this was not an attempt to keep Crowder off campus, then somebody at SMU does not know how to coordinate events in a cost-effective manner. Given the large number of public events SMU holds every year, the latter option is doubtful.
Whenever university staff exhibit this kind of irrational behavior, they disrespect their students and stand contrary to their purpose as educators.
On a more positive note, SMU students have now demonstrated the importance of fighting for free speech: first during the controversy over the 9/11 memorial earlier this year, and now with their refusal to accept prohibitive expenditures for a conservative speaker.
Administrators should never deny students the opportunity to explore new ideas. College campuses should be places where students can safely and responsibly take a stand for their truest convictions.
Ironically, the best efforts of some administrators to suppress conservatives across the nation have done quite the opposite. An increasing number of students understand the importance of fighting for free speech, and are speaking ever louder, including students at SMU.