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Friday, April 19, 2024
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Harrison Wells, chair of Young Americans for Freedom, speaks at a Nov. 6, 2023 event.

Young Americans for Freedom said UW-Madison’s security fees were 'unprecedented.' Records show that’s not the full story

UW-Madison waived more than $4,000 in security fees for the conservative group despite charging other campus organizations hourly rates for security staff.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison waived more than $4,000 in security and event fees for an event hosted by Wisconsin Young Americans for Freedom on March 11 after a lawsuit threat from conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. 

In a letter to university administration from March 11, YAF and WILL argued that security fees assessed for Michael Knowles were “unprecedented” and an attempt to limit YAF’s free speech rights. 

But records, including those from YAF events, show security fees were assessed for past events. Although, UW has robust criteria for determining security fees for student groups, whether or not UW waives the fees is inconsistent across events.

YAF hosted Michael Knowles, a conservative commentator from The Daily Wire, at Memorial Union on March 13.

According to university policy and campus event contracts, “police officers and/or private security may be required at any event using university facilities. The RSO is responsible for costs associated with required police and private security service.”

The security cost for the Michael Knowles event was based on risk assessment criteria, later forwarded to YAF and included in the complaint letter.

The risk assessment criteria, which was included in YAF’s complaint, tallies points for several estimated risk factors, such as estimated attendance, access to the event from the public and alcohol consumption at the event. 

YAF tallied points in several categories, including significant security/safety problems and general problems at sponsored events in the last two years, which includes instances like vandalism, overcrowding, physical altercations and police calls to prior events. 

The group also scored points by opening the event to the public. 

Based on the total of these points and the venue for the event, minimum security requirements were established, including the number of required UWPD officers and professional security. 

YAF was informed on March 1 that they would have to pay over $4,000 in “security fees” that included costs for six police officers, one police supervisor, a metal detector and more security personnel. 

“UW hosts multiple left wing speakers — some of whom are very controversial — but there is no indication that UW has ever charged security fees for these events,” the letter said. It did not provide evidence to support the claim that security fees are not assessed for other events.

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Harrison Wells, YAF chairman, also questioned the security charges.  

“We think it's absolutely absurd that we should be treated differently than other clubs, and other groups on campus who bring in controversial speakers,” Wells told the Cardinal. “We're not going to be paying this absurd amount of money.” 

Kelly Tyrrell, UW-Madison Director of Media Relations and Strategic Communications, defended the university, saying it had previously provided support for the appearances of YAF-hosted speakers Ben Shapiro and Matt Walsh

“UW-Madison is a fierce supporter of the exchange of ideas and has welcomed a variety of speakers with diverse viewpoints to campus, particularly at the invitation of registered student organizations,” Tyrrell said.

But records obtained by The Daily Cardinal show that other organizations have directly paid for security in the past. The records show that, when invoiced for security fees of around $400 for security, an organization that held an April 2023 event at Memorial Union had to pay their own fees. 

UW-Madison charged similar security fees at a rate of $24.27 per hour for at least five other events held at Memorial Union since September 2023, according to a source with knowledge of the charges.  


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Event security details from another student organization event from April 2023.


In fall of 2022, YAF was similarly charged approximately $400 for security fees for an event with Matt Walsh, but this “also included over $480 in discounts, thereby eliminating any charge for security,” according to WILL. These discounts appear to be for other event costs, such as microphones or event space, and not for security. 


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Security fees assessed for YAF's fall 2022 Matt Walsh event.


Yet, YAF has had security fees waived before with minimal explanation.

When YAF hosted Shapiro last fall, security costs for the event also cost the university approximately $2,500 and “CSC contracted services” cost the university approximately $4,000. However, both costs were discounted from the invoice, according to budget documents provided in WILL’s letter. These fees were automatically deducted from the Shapiro budget, according to Wells.

It is unclear why security costs were assessed and then discounted for the Shapiro event. 


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Discounted security charges for YAF Ben Shapiro event from Nov., 2023.


In its response letter to WILL on March 14, UW-Madison said it would drop the $4,000 security fee for the Knowles event because of the “tight timeframe” between the complaint and the event itself, even though it said YAF had previously agreed to pay the charges. 

“Solely to ensure that the speaker event moves forward in this tight timeframe, the contract is being revised to remove charges for costs related to the extensive security protocols including those that YAF specifically requested and agreed to pay for, as well as those identified by UWPD as appropriate,” the letter read.

The university’s response letter also indicated it disagreed with many of WILL’s and YAF’s claims in the complaint, despite removing all fees for the event.

“While the university disputes many of the positions you assert in your letter, the timing of your expressed concerns in relation to the event leaves little opportunity for debate on the matter without negatively impacting the proposed event,” the letter read.

When asked to explain why UW-Madison waived security fees for the Shapiro and Knowles events while charging them for other organizations, Tyrrell said that “each event has been managed on a case-by-case basis, which has, in the past balanced group requests, the specifics of the venue and UWPD’s security assessments.”

”We continue to assess and improve these efforts,” Tyrrell added.

Previous conservative speaker events saw protests near the event sites, including during Walsh’s and Shapiro’s visits. 

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Noe Goldhaber

Noe Goldhaber is the college news editor and former copy chief for the Daily Cardinal. She is a statistics major and has reported on a wide range of campus issues. Follow her on Twitter at @noegoldhaber.


Gabriella Hartlaub

Gabriella Hartlaub is an arts editor for the Daily Cardinal. She also reports state politics and life & style stories. Follow her on Twitter at @gabihartlaub.


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