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Dartmouth bills College Republicans $3,600 for security after forcing live Andy Ngo event online

Club can't request money from Dartmouth until it pays debt for Ngo event, and James O'Keefe event may add to their debt. Security fees are common flashpoint in conservative campus events.

Published: April 20, 2022 4:18pm

Updated: April 21, 2022 11:10pm

An Ivy League school is demanding after-the-fact security fees from its College Republicans chapter for an event the administration banned in person, threatening the club's ability to continue hosting events, its president told Just the News.

Dartmouth College ordered the CRs to move the Jan. 20 event with Portland-based Antifa chronicler Andy Ngo online just hours before it was scheduled to start, citing "credible threats" the administration received from law enforcement.

Hanover Police, however, said it didn't ask Dartmouth to shut down the Ngo event, which it was prepared to secure, and wasn't told why Dartmouth moved it online.

Event security fees on campus have emerged as a high-profile flashpoint in recent years, usually with right-leaning student clubs accusing administrators of caving to the heckler's veto by sticking them with unreasonable estimates and bills for speakers perceived as controversial.

Ohio approved legislation in 2020 to ban public universities from basing security fees on the anticipated reaction to a speaker. But an appeals court dismissed a lawsuit against the University of Minnesota after it revised a policy used to move conservative pundit Ben Shapiro to a smaller, less convenient venue than progressive speakers received.

Dartmouth CRs President Chloe Ezzo learned the club had been stuck with a $3,600 bill from the Ngo event, and was thus not in "good standing," when she applied for funding for its Wednesday night event with James O'Keefe, the conservative firebrand who founded Project Veritas.

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The Dartmouth Anarchists, an anonymous group that previously threatened to disrupt the Ngo event, publicly accused the CRs of announcing the O'Keefe event "at the last minute" to avoid scrutiny but didn't directly threaten to disrupt it.

In a phone call hours before the O'Keefe event, Ezzo described a maddening bureaucratic process that involved three requests for funding from the 18-member Council on Student Organizations, whose rules are "very vague and selectively enforced." 

The council didn't mention the outstanding security bill until the second request, and one member suggested a prohibited alumni fundraiser to pay the debt, according to Ezzo. It rejected her third request for a token $450 to cover just security, meaning the Department of Safety and Security may stick them with another bill of unknown amount.

"We might come out of this event with four grand of debt" and risk the college freezing its account, Ezzo said. "I feel like we're set up to fail."

Associate Dean for Student Life Eric Ramsey has repeatedly assured the club of Dartmouth's commitment to student speech and agreement to cover "ancillary security fees," contradicting messages from its previous contact, Senior Assistant Dean for Student Life Anna Hall, Ezzo said.

O'Keefe has agreed to speak regardless of the funding confusion, and the CRs have a backup venue in case Dartmouth shuts them down again, Ezzo said. But she criticized the administration for refusing to punish students who made "violent threats on Instagram" against the Ngo event. "I don't trust them at all to protect our rights."

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has been hounding the administration since the abrupt cancelation of the Ngo event, confirming the police didn't shut it down.

The civil liberties group also obtained more than 100 pages of heavily redacted, often redundant public records from Hanover Police showing discussions of potential threats, including from a socialist forum on Reddit. 

Ezzo told administrators about a planned protest by local black-bloc groups Dartmouth Anarchists and Northeast Antifa, and a representative for cosponsor Turning Point USA told the police chief about a specific activist.

Ngo noted that a Portland Antifa activist offered money to anyone who assaulted him at Dartmouth. An upstate New York Antifa group tweeted that he should receive "a milkshake welcome," referring to a viral 2019 assault that Ngo said left him with brain injury

Forcing the CRs to pay security costs "based on detractors' disruption" and holding the club's funding hostage "until these exorbitant fees are paid" infringes on Dartmouth's contractual obligations to students to honor their free expression, FIRE wrote in an April 18 letter to President Philip Hanlon.

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It noted the alleged contradictory messages to the club from the two administrators. "In short, Dartmouth is charging the College Republicans for reporting beforehand actionable threats of disruption to allow adequate leadtime to the university police," the letter said.

Its $3,600 bill "also disincentivizes students from reporting threats to their safety, as that may lead the students to incur unreasonable and exorbitant fees," and leaves students with controversial viewpoints "only bad options" for expressing themselves, including "threats of deplatforming or censorship."

Associate Vice President for Communications Diana Lawrence provided a statement to Just the News emphasizing the college never claimed Hanover Police made a recommendation about the Ngo event, just that it received "concerning information" from police "late in the afternoon."

She said the CRs were "no exception" to Dartmouth policies that hold student organizations responsible for "related security costs" for their events, "which are overseen" by Safety and Security. The club received a cost estimate Jan. 17, "with enough time to submit a funding request for these costs," but did not request it, and it was aware the Ngo event "might need to be adjusted to address safety concerns expressed by the organizers themselves."

Dartmouth allowed the O'Keefe event to go forward despite the club's deficit, and the CRs "can seek other sources of funding to address their deficit," Lawrence said.

She also responded on behalf of the Council on Student Organizations.

The school is also facing criticism from the former editor of campus newspaper The Dartmouth. In a tweet thread Tuesday, Kyle Mullins apologized for not following up on Ngo's canceled event at the time and called the administration's "pattern of behavior ... very bad."

In his newspaper column, however, Mullins took the CRs to task for inviting a series of "unserious, lie-peddling provocateurs ... who contribute little to anyone's understanding of politics, society or real conservatism." The predictable protests let the club "claim victimhood at the hands of a 'left-wing mob' and everyone goes home feeling angrier and more self-righteous than before."

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