By: Sarah Martin, News Editor
University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel released an online statement stating that the university has opened discussions with Richard Spencer’s group.
“After consulting widely with many members of our community,” Schlissel began, “I made the difficult decision to begin discussions with Richard Spencer’s group to determine whether he will be allowed to rent space to speak on the University of Michigan campus.”
Schlissel proceeded to say that if a “reasonably safe setting for the event” cannot be guaranteed, that U of M will not allow Spencer to speak on the campus.
Spencer was barred from speaking on Michigan State University’s campus earlier this year, which led to Spencer suing the school in federal court.
Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon denied Spencer’s July request to speak at the school, citing the high possibility of violence if Spencer were on campus.
The denial followed the violence in Charlottesville, Va. this summer where Spencer spoke. The rally turned violent, resulting in one woman’s death and 19 other injuries when a man ran his vehicle into a group of counter protesters.
“We can’t be excellent without being diverse and that all individuals, regardless of their background, deserve full inclusion in our community and an equal opportunity to thrive.” Schlissel said, “We now face a very difficult test of our ability to uphold these values. This is a test we did not welcome, but it’s one that we must face together.”
Schlissel said that he “personally detests and rejects the hateful white supremacy and white nationalism” expressed by Spencer and “the views of his organization and his followers are antithetical to the University of Michigan.”
The president highlighted three concerns in his online statement.
In his first point, he describes that the university will “insist upon appropriate and lawful requirements on the time, place, and manner of his speech” that are “conducive to public safety for the entire community.” He highlights that limits on time, place, and speech “have been upheld in lawsuit alleging violations of the First Amendment.”
Second, Schlissel said that by denying Spencer to speak on campus, it would “provide even more attention” and “allow him to claim a court victory.”
“Their formula is clear,” Schlissel said, “Request to use a public space. Sue if not allowed to speak. Claim oppression by the state to stoke outrage. Use each moment as a rallying cry for their views.”
His third point discusses the dangers of a democratic society without free speech.
“If we refuse to rent space to this odious individual, it is easier to imagine our government at some point in the future deciding that some of your ideas are too dangerous, or too ‘opposed to our values’ to allow others to hear.” Schlissel said, “We can’t let this happen, even though it means we must allow vile speech.”
Schlissel says he encourages everyone to stay away from areas where Spencer’s supporters “may contribute to an unstable situation,” which he says will help keep the community safe while “standing up for our values.”
A website has been created with information on the request, and will be updated throughout the discussion process. It can be found at the Public Affairs & Internal Communications page on the University of Michigan website, under “Free Speech and Speakers on Campus.”