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Spencer threatens to sue UM over request to speak there

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Lawyers for white supremacist Richard Spencer are threatening a lawsuit if the University of Michigan doesn’t respond in the next week to his request to speak on campus.

The letter, sent Friday by a local attorney, demands an answer by Nov. 24 after a request was made to UM on Oct. 27 by Cameron Padgett, of Spencer’s National Policy Institute, to rent a university facility.

At the time, UM leaders have said they would consider the safety but hadn’t made a decision.

“I have been following with interest recently-published newspaper articles about the University of Michigan’s response to Padgett’s simple request,” wrote Clinton Township-based lawyer Kyle Bristow, “and I am disgusted and dismayed that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is being flippantly disregarded by you and your colleagues because of the political viewpoint of the speakers who would attend the proposed event and the heckler’s veto which is being utilized by left-wing individuals who are detractors of Padgett and Spencer.”

“Regent Ron Weiser, for example, described Spencer as ‘disgusting,’” Bristow continued, “and Regent Andrea Newman suggested that she ‘would be happy to defend a lawsuit’ if sued for wantonly infringing upon my client’s right to free speech.”

UM spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen said no decision has been made.

“We continue to evaluate the request,” she said Friday.

Spencer’s request came days after Michigan State University denied his request to speak, and after UM hosted controversial author Charles Murray, whose appearance was disrupted by protesters.

Soon after, UM released its first survey on campus climate related to diversity, equity and inclusion, which showed UM African-American students are six times more likely than white students to have felt discrimination in the previous year.

Asked earlier how UM balances discrimination felt by students and free speech on campus when considering speakers, university president Mark Schlissel said those are some of the most difficult decisions the university has to make. Among the most important issues to consider is public safety, he added.

“Because of our position as a public university, we really don’t have the option of censoring speech, nor would we want that option,” Schlissel said. “But whatever we do, we have to be very respectful to the impact of speakers ... to students as we work on improving the campus climate.”

Spencer’s appearances at other campuses have been accompanied by protests, including a speech in October at the University of Florida.