U-M will consider renting space to white supremacist speaker

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel said Tuesday he made “the difficult decision” to begin discussions between U-M and representatives of white supremacist Richard Spencer to determine whether Spencer will be allowed to rent space to speak on the Ann Arbor campus.

While no one at U-M invited Spencer to campus and no university-affiliated group is sponsoring his request, Schlissel said that, as a public university, “the law and our commitment to free speech forbid us from declining a speaker based on the presumed content of speech.

“But we can and will impose limits on time, place and manner of a speaking engagement to protect the safety of our U-M community. If we cannot assure a reasonably safe setting for the event, we will not allow it to go forward.”

In an email message to all faculty, staff and students on the Ann Arbor campus, Schlissel said, “When I accepted the presidency of this great university three and a half years ago, I did so in part based on my appreciation and respect for our shared values — that 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.

“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.”

Regent Mark Bernstein said, “The only thing worse than Richard Spencer being on our campus is stopping him from being on our campus. We could do the easy thing. Others have. We could ban Richard Spencer. Everyone would celebrate. The board would be cheered. President Schlissel would be applauded. But we would be dancing on our own grave.”

Regent Shauna Ryder Diggs said, “First, I want to be very clear. I support free speech not hate speech. Equality, inclusion and civil discourse. Race, gender, orientation or religion. We know what he stands for. I disagree. I’m in support of the president’s decision. We all have a choice. Attend, ignore or peacefully protest.”

Regent Denise Ilitch said, “I fully and adamantly reject the hateful white supremacy espoused by Richard Spencer. I reject his anti-Semitic, racist views and his hate of LGBT citizens as well as many others. Unfortunately, I do not agree with the University of Michigan administration​. I agree with the position of​ Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Penn State, The University of North Carolina and Auburn University in denying his request to speak on their campuses.”

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman said, “This university should not allow itself to be cowed by the voices of bigotry and hatred. Those voices will convict themselves by their own words. Our principles will not be weakened by those who do not share them but rather strengthened and tempered by our resiliency in defending them.”

Regent Andrew C. Richner said, “I agree with this approach and I share the views of colleagues in support of that position. The First Amendment does not require anyone to listen.”

Regent Ron Weiser said, “The best thing that the students of the University of Michigan can do is ignore this speaker. Do not give him an audience. Let the story be that our university upheld the right to free speech, but no one was interested in hearing these vile and hateful remarks.”

Schlissel said he grappled with how to distance his personal feelings regarding the request from the important safety considerations he must weigh as president. “I recognize that an appearance by Spencer will cause genuine emotional hurt to many members of our community,” he said.

“I personally detest and reject the hateful white supremacy and white nationalism expressed by Mr. Spencer as well as his racist, anti-Semitic and otherwise bigoted views, as do the regents and the entire leadership of this university. Many followers who show up at his rallies share his repugnant beliefs and should be shunned by our community.

“His views, and those of his organization and its followers, are antithetical to everything we stand for at the University of Michigan. We strive for intellectual rigor and equal opportunity for all who seek to learn, teach and conduct research for the public good.”

The inquiry about renting space at U-M came in an email Oct. 30 from Cameron Padgett, a representative of Spencer’s National Policy Institute. The university has been considering the request, and the president said Tuesday he has consulted widely with many members of the university community.

As the university moves forward with the request, Schlissel said his foremost priority is safety.

“We will continue to rely on a thorough assessment of safety considerations by our Division of Public Safety and Security. We will insist upon appropriate and lawful requirements on the time, place and manner of his speech in ways that our experts conclude are most conducive to public safety for the entire community, including those who are not a part of our learning community.”

Schlissel also said denying the request would provide even more attention to the speaker and his cause, and allow him to claim a court victory.

“Those who would use public spaces as venues to promote hate are emboldened by denials they can fight in court. Their formula is clear: Request to use 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.”

“As painful as it is to allow this speaker to rent our space, a democratic society without free speech is unimaginable,” Schlissel said.

The U-M president urged the university to ignore Spencer if he does come to campus.

“We can ignore him, reject the hate and evil he espouses and offer support to those he targets with his racist and discriminatory views,” Schlissel said.

“We can deprive him of the attention he needs to survive and deny him the crowds he craves. Imagine the power of a room mostly empty, with his only audience being a few followers surrounded by hundreds of empty seats.

“We can support each other, speak out and protest in different venues. We know that many students, faculty and staff might want to hold events of their own that reflect U-M values, away from the venue Mr. Spencer will rent. Once a time and place have been identified, we will work with our community to host these types of events.”

Schlissel concluded his message to the university community by saying, “All of us can unite against the evils of racism, anti-Semitism, discrimination and those who seek to degrade and diminish others.

“The University of Michigan is home to our nation’s strongest and best academic community — with students, faculty, staff and graduates who care deeply about their fellow Wolverines and who strive to lead in a better world.

“No one who rents space on our campus can take that away from us.”



  1. Andrew Castelli
    on November 22, 2017 at 3:08 am

    The mere fact of an Institution of higher learning to even consider a decision to let this individual speak (or not) on campus is itself highly misguided, irrelevant, inappropriate and even insulting to the University community, merely considering the content of his message alone.

    The main question should be: By the speech and presence on campus, will he elevate intelectual discourse to a higher level, providing students positive insights and knowledge into higher culture, art, technology and/or science? Isn’t this the true mission of a great University?

    It seems that the relativistic national debate on free speech knows no bounds in terms of morals or morality, and has negatively infiltrated even the highest levels and standards of the University community.

    It seems to me, that the question to even consider that this individual speak at the University is in itself irrelevant, a waste of valuable time and resources, as it has nothing to do with the true mission and values of the University: to provide relevant and positive values and influence to students through intellectual discourse that promote growth, not hate. This is the key question.

    Based on what should be -and are- the high the highest standard and traditions of a great University, the question has nothing to do with “free speech” but rather on “appropriateness of content” in terms of fulfillment of principal University’s goals, including public security.

    It is true that the University is a public institution, but please consider that the majority of State, National and International students that come here -pay-, an inordinate amount of money for tuition, room and board from their own pockets; let alone the majority of Faculty and Staff would rather elevate intellectual discourse and debate to a higher standing, not a lower one. They deserve better.

    • Jane Shirley
      on November 22, 2017 at 7:38 am

      Higher learning includes listing to both sides and making your own decision. Some may enjoy what he has to say. Some may not enjoy what he has to say. When you start censoring people because you don’t agree with the content, you become narrow-minded. College should be about expanding your mind.

      • Jane Shirley
        on November 22, 2017 at 7:43 am

        *includes listening to both sides

    • Joseph Schepis
      on November 22, 2017 at 1:58 pm

      Thank you. U of M stands for excellence and white supremist views have no place here. Take a stand. Deny this request.

    • Richard Stevens
      on November 24, 2017 at 4:11 pm


      Consider: White nationalist leader Richard Spencer has been banned from entering 26 countries in Europe, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

      Spencer said in an interview that he hasn’t received government confirmation about his ban from the more than two dozen countries in Europe’s visa-free Schengen area, including Poland, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Sweden.

      “I’m being treated like a criminal by the Polish government. It’s just insane,” Spencer said. “I haven’t done anything. What are they accusing me of?”

      Spencer said he would try and contest the ban, which would last for five years, according to the AP.

      Spencer canceled plans to travel to Poland earlier this month after seeing reports the government was threatening to keep him out of the country, he said.

      Spencer was previously banned from the Schengen zone for three years after his 2014 arrest in Hungary.

    • Bill Leaf
      on December 6, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      One would hope that any “rental” fees would include the full cost of providing the venue, logistics, security, etc., and that would include costs for non-University services as well, such as Ann Arbor or Michigan State Police. Perhaps that kind of bill — payable in advance — would discourage such events now and in the future. The University should not, in any way, underwrite such an event.

  2. Fen Xing
    on November 22, 2017 at 4:50 am

    “To even consider a decision to let this individual to speak or not itself is highly misguided, irrelevant, inappropriate and insulting to our U Mich community. NO is the decision!

  3. Margaret Perrett
    on November 22, 2017 at 6:12 am

    Let him come. Tell people who disagree with him to stay away…no protesters- nothing. If you really want to uncloak who the people are on campus who agree with his ideology, let them show themselves. That could be the most truthful action.

    • Russ Ellis
      on November 22, 2017 at 9:27 am

      I agree, Let him come, but what we need is deafening silence, no crowns just cameras for those who “un-cloak”. If you can’t stand not to be there, then Stand with you back turned in deafening silence, to the screaming mob of white supremacist who are sure to follow. If done well, this like Mahatma Gandhi march to the sea, will have an impact. It will take real courage to do this with people to hate the fact that you exist goading you. And you will give the national news something they having seen since the 1960’s. Just thoughts, please consider them.

  4. Martin S
    on November 22, 2017 at 7:12 am

    I’d love if Daryl Davis could speak at the same time. I’d love to hear more about how to convince people to give up hate.


  5. Jane Shirley
    on November 22, 2017 at 7:28 am

    Let him come. Don’t attend if you don’t like his message. U-M is giving this man more publicity by making a huge issue of this. I had no clue who this guy was until U-M and local media blew it up.

    • Christopher Henry
      on November 23, 2017 at 6:22 pm

      Or, better yet, if you feel safe enough and emotionally resilient enough to do it:
      DO attend,
      DO wear something that makes it clear that you don’t agree with his message,
      DON’T try to exercise a heckler’s veto by chanting to drown him out,
      DO present actual, logical arguments to any of his supporters who respond to your lack of support by trying to tell you why you’re wrong and/or evil,
      DO answer any questions that any of them may ask you that it doesn’t physically endanger you to answer,
      DO give contact information that it doesn’t physically endanger you to give (such as a disposable GMail address) to anyone who asks, so that if they’re having doubts that they don’t want to express in front of other supporters, you can have an opportunity to nurture them, and
      DON’T respond to lawful speech, however abhorrent, with violence, but
      DO hit back if someone physically attacks you.

      Extremist movements like Spencer’s thrive by isolating their members from social contact with anyone outside the movement. It makes quitting costlier, and it also makes it easier for the leaders to persuade the membership that everyone who opposes them is a brainwashed sheep, a coward, or a cackling villain who seeks to destroy them and all they hold dear. To the extent that you can present a personal counter-example to that narrative, you can do a whole lot to weaken it.

      Now, let me be clear: These people have made their choices. I’m certainly not suggesting that anyone is morally obligated to engage with them in this way. But neither is it morally or strategically wrong to do so if that’s something you feel comfortable choosing to do.

  6. Robert H
    on November 22, 2017 at 9:12 am

    We should never turn down the opportunity for a live and willing subject. This presents us with an excellent opportunity for furthering psychoanalytical research. I am certain we have many Faculty member that can utilize this as a teaching moment for students and their own research.
    My personal view is the proposed speaker does not represent a philosophy that is reasonable. The views the speaker would represent do not seem to have any scientific validity in terms of the expressed interest in racial purity. I would like to attend this spectacle so I may better understand the mind of people who knowingly function this way.

  7. Aaron Quillen
    on November 22, 2017 at 9:18 am

    This is not an issue of free speech. Richard Spencer’s message is obviously discriminatory, racist, bigoted and harmful, thus hate speech, not free speech. I am disgusted that his presence on campus even being considered.

    • Christopher Henry
      on November 23, 2017 at 11:01 pm

      Hate speech IS free speech. This the US, not Canada. We don’t have “Human Rights Tribunals” here.

    • Rachel Nagel
      on November 30, 2017 at 7:10 pm

      Hate speech IS protected free speech under US law.

  8. Patricia Turnbull
    on November 22, 2017 at 9:30 am

    So no one invited him here, no one wants him here, but we’re hosting him anyway because he’ll whine and cry if we don’t. That’s exactly how spoiled children learn to get their way. If it must happen, then I agree with everyone who said we need to actively ignore him. In 2012, Florida pastor Terry Jones insisted on coming to Dearborn and staging an anti-Islam “Stand Up, Walk Out” protest in front of Edsel Ford high school, where my son was a student. No one invited him, no one wanted him to come, but he was allowed to have his silly little rally. He had about 10 people standing with him. No students walked out. The one news article headline read “Jones visit to Dearborn’s Edsel Ford High uneventful”. That’s now this

  9. Patricia Turnbull
    on November 22, 2017 at 9:32 am

    Oops…that is, that’s how this situation needs to play out. Dearborn leadership handled it extremely well.

  10. Joe W
    on November 22, 2017 at 9:54 am

    What I would have liked to hear:

    “As painful as it is to allow this speaker the free expression of his rights under our Bill of Rights, a democratic society without the free exercise of the rights contained in our Bill of Rights is unimaginable. Historically, it is the rights of people from marginalized groups that are most often threatened, and always essential. If we refuse to allow this odious individual his basic rights, as ensured by our Constitution, it is easier to imagine our government, at some point in the future, deciding that some of your rights and ideas are too dangerous, or too “opposed to our values” to allow. We can’t let this happen, even though it means we must allow the free exercise of all rights contained in our Bill of Rights.”

  11. Eleni Gourgou
    on November 22, 2017 at 10:19 am

    The University should allow this person to speak. The University as an institution should promote free speech, as a democratic and open institution. The UoM and Ann Arbor community can then offer this racist their most deafening silence or their most loud opposition. But the University should remain open to all. This is the first time that I absolutely agree with Pres. Schlissel, for another reason: “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. We can’t let this happen, even though it means we must allow vile speech.”

  12. James Davis
    on November 22, 2017 at 10:38 am

    For decades the university allowed speakers to deny or downplay the Holodomor and other calculated mass atrocities. These heartless denials and efforts to diminish the scale and cruelty of the Holodomor greatly offended and shocked relatives of the victims. Compared to the cruel and insensitive denials of the Holodomor and efforts to downplay this atrocity and related atrocities, allowing the odious Richard Spencer to spew his ideas is of little consequence.

    If alleged threats of violence force the cancellation of Spencer’s talk, the “heckler’s veto” will have trumped the First Amendment, a bullying tactic that can be used by almost any group that favors censorship.

    The issue, however, goes far beyond Spencer’s constitutional right to speak. The issue involves the constitutional right of people to hear ideas expressed by others, even ideas that may jar and offend. Just as no one that I know would look at a book someone is carrying across campus, take offense at the book’s title and contents, and demand that the person carrying the book not read the book or allow others to read it, I hope no one associated with the university would encounter a person walking across campus to hear a speaker and demand that that person not go to hear the speaker. No one that I know would put up with that kind of bullying, unconstitutional censorship.

  13. Shalina Rankin
    on November 22, 2017 at 10:43 am

    We continue to confuse free speech/expression with the right to a platform or an audience. Anyone who is invited by student groups or faculty members should certainly be allowed to speak. Since that is not the case let him rent out Fox Theatre or some other venue. Let him get a permit from the Ann Arbor City Council and hold his stupid speech in the town square. No one is denying him free speech but we should hold the line on who are guests at our institutions.

  14. Sally Lusk
    on November 22, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    I understand the President’s dilemma, and rationale for a very difficult decision – happy to not be in a position to have to make such a ruling. However, I do wonder if one aspect was considered? If a UM student, staff, or faculty member presented the same hateful white supremacy message on campus via speech, flyers, or graffitti, would they be sanctioned? not allowed to continue in their roles? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then it does not seem rational to plan to just ignore the message from this speaker who has rented space on campus. If the space is rented to him, then I would hope that ALL of the extra expenses for security would be part of the rental fee.

  15. Jamie Estill
    on November 22, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    Giving a racist Nazi a platform to speak on campus denigrates the University and puts the campus community at risk.

  16. Richard Stevens
    on November 24, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    The University should NOT allowed someone who is banned from 26 European countries.

    White nationalist leader Richard Spencer has been banned from entering 26 countries in Europe, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

    Spencer said in an interview that he hasn’t received government confirmation about his ban from the more than two dozen countries in Europe’s visa-free Schengen area, including Poland, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Sweden.

    “I’m being treated like a criminal by the Polish government. It’s just insane,” Spencer said. “I haven’t done anything. What are they accusing me of?”

    Spencer said he would try and contest the ban, which would last for five years, according to the AP.

    Spencer canceled plans to travel to Poland earlier this month after seeing reports the government was threatening to keep him out of the country, he said.

    Spencer was previously banned from the Schengen zone for three years after his 2014 arrest in Hungary.

  17. Suzanne Davidson
    on November 25, 2017 at 7:27 am

    I have worked at UMHS AKA”Michigan Medicine” for more than 10 years as a nurse and I am embarrassed that this conversation is even happening!!! Really???!!! White Nationalism/Supremacy Speaker? It’s NOT free speech, it’s HATE speech and I believe it should not be tolerated and the space should not be rented out. If he feels strongly about his views and coming to Michigan, he can rent space from someone else in the area. I hope U of M agrees we are too good to allow this man and his followers to come here. I think violence will ensue. Peace.

    • Christopher Henry
      on November 27, 2017 at 3:34 pm

      Hate speech IS free speech. This isn’t Canada, with its “Human Rights Tribunals.”

  18. University Record
    on November 25, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    Comments were removed because they violated the Record’s comment guidelines, which can be found at http://myumi.ch/LPNBz.

  19. Ella Cherry
    on November 26, 2017 at 7:53 pm

    “Intentionally creating or even tolerating an event in which the speaker calls for the “peaceful ethnic cleansing” of your own student population is antithetical to the university’s mission and a betrayal of students’ trust. U of M has a legitimate basis to reject this hate under the 1st Amendment and deny access. To simply cower under the threat of a 1st Amendment litigation for U of M, which has the constitutional expertise to combat this, is incomprehensible. As one law school professor explained to us in class — sometimes you choose your plaintiff. Between choosing a grieving parent or injured student, or a Nazi calling for the “cleansing” of students, the answer is clear.” – Martha Marcero


  20. Ernest Williams
    on November 26, 2017 at 7:59 pm

    We must stand together against hate. We must also purge it from our own house. You know where to start…. Check your letters, compliance lines, central HR, record posts, and even public sites where information is starting to increase.

  21. Clayton Lewis
    on November 27, 2017 at 10:55 am

    I admit that I am confused by this decision. How does the university maintain standards of excellence without discriminating in its selection process for student admissions, faculty hiring, degree recipients? Have the voices of those not admitted or hired been suppressed in violation of their right to free speech? Clearly not, but why don’t these standards apply to a decision on who can speak on campus? Spencer and his followers are seeking legitimacy for their hateful ideas. I’d rather fight them in court and lose than grant them that legitimacy.

    on November 29, 2017 at 9:12 am

    These are trying times in our history and many issues related to the rights of the citizenry are at the forefront of public discourse. I cannot fathom why this particular speech is an issue. Speech which incites violence toward others or causes a pubic danger has not been protected and should not be.

    He has no intellectual foundation to stand on, only his opinion; there is no legitimate science to back his claims, only grotesque perversions. Also, his free speech is not violated by saying he cannot speak at the University. He can still speak…no one is saying he cannot. By allowing him a venue, you legitimize his hate. Stand on the right side of history U of M.

    For practical purposes, if he is allowed this venue, the Ph.D. program we are considering will go to a University with a moral backbone. I will exercise my right to seek an environment that fosters intellectual discourse and not base ignorance.

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