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Criminal Justice & Legal System

University of Michigan negotiating with Richard Spencer on possible appearance

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Tracy Samilton
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U of M students protesting Richard Spencer appearance

The University of Michigan is negotiating with white supremacist Richard Spencer on his demand to speak on campus.

U of M President Mark Schlissel says Spencer's views are abhorrent. Spencer thinks whites should pursue what he calls a "peaceful ethnic cleansing" to remove minorities from the U.S.

"However, 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," Schlissel told a jeering and angry crowd of students at a hastily-called regents meeting Tuesday night.

Schissel said Spencer must agree to terms that keep the event safe for students. If he does not, then the event won't take place, he said.

Students alleged that the university is siding with Spencer's hateful views by letting him speak on campus.

During public comments, African-American student Brittany Williams said part of the university's brand is the idea that for its students, U of M is home.  

"For many of us ... it is home. Consider what your response would be to him showing up to your house," she said, "to him inciting violence, demeaning the core of your identity, calling for your death, in your living room. That is what you are potentially subjecting us to."

Spencer, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center calls "a kind of professional racist in khakis," is on a national tour of college campuses, with varied responses.

Michigan State University has denied him the right to speak on campus.  He is suing.

The University of Auburn granted Spencer's request for a venue in April, then rescinded the invitation, citing safety concerns. But a federal judge ruled that Spencer does not advocate violence and forced the university to allow Spencer to appear. He spoke before a crowd of some 400 people.

At a recent speech in October at the University of Florida - Gainesville, students who opposed Spencer's views bought most of the tickets, turning his speech into a raucous debacle, with Spencer shouting insults at the hostile audience.