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White supremacist Richard Spencer requests to speak at the University of Michigan

Oct 31, 2017

White supremacist Richard Spencer submitted a request Friday to speak at the University of Michigan as part of an ongoing attempt to challenge the free speech policies of public universities.

Spencer, who heads a hate group called the National Policy Institute, has been going around the country speaking at public universities, including the University of Florida and UC Berkley, often inciting protests and violent outbursts.

He has been barred from speaking at other universities, including Michigan State and Ohio State. Administrators of those schools cite safety concerns, but both have now been sued by Spencer, who claims his First Amendment rights are being violated.

Rick Fitzgerald is the assistant vice president for public affairs at Michigan. He confirmed that an email was sent Friday night requesting a venue for Spencer to speak on campus.

“We’ll carefully consider what could be an appropriate venue, and the security considerations for a high-profile speaker – which is always something that we take into consideration. And we’ll be talking about what will work, and move forward in assessing the request.”

Fitzgerald notes that the university is aware of the broader context of Spencer's request, and that they will attempt to find a balance between free speech and safety.

“Again, we don’t make decisions on who can come to campus based on the content of their speech, but [we make] more considerations on the safety and security of the community. Can we have this speaker, or that speaker, here in a safe way for our community? That’s a key part of the consideration."

Watch the video below to see excerpts of Spencer's speech supporting white supremacy and neo-Nazism at a 2016 National Policy Institute event:

There have been a number of racist incidents at the University in recent months, including white supremacist flyers posted on campus and racial slurs written on dorm rooms, that make Spencer's request especially controversial.

The issue of free speech also came up earlier this month, when The Bell Curve author Charles Murray was met with protests at UM.  No one at that event was arrested or ejected.

UM officials could take the lead from the University of Cinncinati, where Spencer is currently scheduled to speak. Officials there have made a number of resources available for students and staff, including a video condemning Spencer's beliefs and a detailed FAQ page.

UC President Neville Pinto emphasized in a statement that "Spencer was not invited by the University or by any of its constituents. His hate, prejudice and racism have been roundly condemned by countless individuals and groups across campus, including our Board of Trustees."

UM President Mark Schlissel has yet to release a statement.