Under pressure, UF opens door for Richard Spencer to speak at later date
The University of Florida says it did not intend to "permanently" bar white nationalist Richard Spencer from speaking on campus and will try to accommodate him if he makes another request.
“The University believed at the time it decided to deny the request for the September 12 speech that the decision was prudent and constitutional, and we continue to believe that it was,” UF’s interim general counsel wrote in a letter to Spencer’s representatives on Friday morning. “Any new request by Mr. Spencer will be treated in the ordinary course consistent with all other such requests.”
In mid-August, the university rejected Spencer’s application to speak on campus, citing concerns about violence in the wake of Charlottesville. UF President Kent Fuchs emailed students about his decision, saying that though Spencer’s rhetoric is “repugnant,” the university ultimately made its decision based on "the likelihood of violence and potential injury — not the words or ideas."
Spencer, a leader in the white nationalist movement that advocates for a white “ethno-state,” had successfully challenged Auburn University in April over a similar rejection. A federal judge said Spencer should be free to speak on First Amendment grounds.
So on Thursday, Gainesville attorney Gary Edinger sent UF a letter on behalf of Spencer, warning that if the university did not let Spencer speak, they could expect to end up in federal court in a matter of days.
On Friday, UF stood by its previous decision but opened the door for Spencer to try again.
“We view this as a promising and hopeful development,” Edinger wrote in an email Friday morning. Edinger, Spencer and event organizer Cameron Padgett planned to discuss next moves on Friday afternoon.
In a phone interview, Padgett remained adamant that an event on Sept. 12 would go on, even if it must take the form of a public demonstration. UF allows public demonstrations unless they disrupt school activities.
"We're going to show up Sept. 12 regardless, a million percent," he said. "We're not going to disrupt the normal activities of the school, but the protesters might. . . . They would need to remove them, not us."
UF spokesman John Hines said the school is working on a statement. Organizers of a planned "No Nazis at UF" protest for Sept. 12 are also keeping tabs on the developments.
Here is the full text of the Sept. 1 letter from UF interim vice president and general counsel Amy M. Hass.
Re: Cameron Padgett/NPI/Richard Spencer
Dear Mr. Edinger:
This is in response to your August 31, 2017 letter regarding the above-referenced matter. The primary mission of the University of Florida is education. In order to serve that mission, the University is dedicated to providing our students, faculty and staff with a safe and peaceful environment in which to teach and learn. We have established a number of venues at the University as designated public forums beacuse we believe that free exchange of ideas is conducive to furthering the University's educational mission. However, when University officials have reasonable grounds to believe that a particular gathering poses a meaningful risk to the safety of our students or employees, or of interfering with our educational mission, we have the right and responsibility to take appropriate steps to mitigate that risk.
Our decision to deny the request for the September 12 speaking engagement was a direct response to the circumstances that developed during and after Mr. Spencer's speaking engagement in Charlottesville, Virginia. The President gave the circumstances considerable deliberation and ultimately decided that the highly charged atmosphere following Charlottesville created a serious risk of violence and disruption if the speech took place on University grounds in early September.
It was never the intention of the University to permanently bar Mr. Spencer from speaking at an appropriate time and location at one of the University's dedicated forums. If Mr. Spencer or the National Policy Institute, Inc. makes another formal request for a speaking date and location, we will make appropriate efforts to accommodate it in a manner consistent with generally applicable University policies, including important safety and security assessments.
We do not consider this exchange to be in the nature of a settlement negotiation. The University believed at the time it decided to deny the request for the September 12 speech that the decision was prudent and constitutional, and we continue to believe that it was. Any new request by Mr. Spencer will be treated in the ordinary course consistent with all other such requests.