MSU will allow white nationalist to speak on campus

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

White nationalist Richard Spencer will speak at Michigan State University on March 5, according to the terms of a settlement agreement reached by attorneys for the university and a Spencer ally.

Spencer will speak from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in a ticketed event at the Auditorium in the Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education at MSU, according to the settlement filed Thursday in federal court in Grand Rapids.

Spencer associate Cameron Padgett will pay a rental fee of $1,600 to reserve the auditorium and obtain a minimum of $1 million in liability insurance for the event, according to the agreement.

MSU will pay for and arrange for a police presence at the event, follow the university’s “dissent and disruption policy” in connection with the event and be allowed to control entry into the event and will set security restrictions.

Padgett, who sued MSU after it refused in August to rent space to him for Spencer, has agreed not to plan or organize any rally or similar event at MSU in connection with Spencer’s appearance, according to the terms of the settlement.

The agreement was the result of mediation talks between both sides and was approved by U.S. District Court Judge Janet T. Neff on Thursday.

Attorney Kyle Bristow, who represents Padgett, said on Thursday the settlement is a resounding First Amendment victory for the “alt-right.”

“Left-wing censorship of right-wing ideas in academia is unacceptable. Richard Spencer gets to speak and MSU gets to pay. The fundamental right of Americans to think and speak freely is non-negotiable,” Bristow said in an email statement.

Padgett has agreed to dismiss his case against MSU as part of the settlement. In return, MSU was ordered to pay his attorney fees of $27,400.

According to the settlement, MSU entered into the agreement to “ensure that the event involving Spencer occurs on a date and at a venue that minimizes the risk of violence and disruption on campus and to avoid the costs of further litigation.”

Through an emailed statement, MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon said MSU originally declined the request because public safety is the university’s first obligation.

“This week, MSU agreed to allow the group to hold an event, during spring break,” Simon said, adding that MSU “is wholly dedicated to freedom of speech, not just as a public institution, but as an institution of higher education. Here, ideas — not people — are meant to clash and to be evaluated based on their merits.”

Simon added: “The security of our campus community remains our top priority and all appropriate security measures will be taken in connection with the event. Michigan State rejects this group’s divisive and racist messages and remains committed to maintaining a diverse campus and supporting an inclusive, just and democratic society.”

Spencer popularized the term “alt-right” to refer to a fringe movement that’s a mix of white nationalist, white supremacist, anti-Semitic and anti-immigration beliefs.

Spencer also has asked the University of Michigan to speak on campus. Asked whether UM has made a decision on Spencer’s request, UM spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen said Thursday there was no update on the issue.

Bristow said “per my client’s directive, I am to wait until February 1 to see how they respond. The complaint to begin the UM lawsuit is already drafted.”

Last month, UM president said Spencer has thrust the university between free speech and campus safety.

“If the University of Michigan does not allow Richard Spencer to speak, we will surely be sued and we will lose and (that) would make Spencer more of a hero in his community,” UM President Mark Schlissel told The News on Dec. 11. “We’d lift him up.”

Students have been protesting the school’s effort to accommodate Spencer, saying someone like him should not be given a platform to promote his beliefs because they clash with the university’s values.

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