The University of Florida has denied a request from the National Policy Institute, an “alt-right” white nationalist group headed by Richard Spencer, to speak on campus next month, citing the “likelihood of violence and potential injury.”
In a Facebook post this past Saturday, UF President Kent Fuchs had noted that NPI had made the request to speak on campus on September 12 and the university’s original response was to allow the group to come, for First Amendment reasons.
“While this speaker’s views do not align with our values as an institution, we must follow the law, upholding the First Amendment not to discriminate based on content and provide access to a public space,” wrote Fuchs.
However, this decision was apparently reversed, as Fuchs wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday morning, “amid serious concerns for safety” and “after assessing potential risks with campus, community, state and federal law enforcement officials following violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., and continued calls online and in social media for similar violence in Gainesville.”
Fuchs also decried the “racist rhetoric” of NPI leader Richard Spencer, and declared the group’s white nationalism “repugnant and counter to everything the university and this nation stands for.”
Citing UF’s “unwavering” dedication to free speech, Fuchs reaffirmed the decision to deny NPI’s request to speak, staying that “the First Amendment does not require a public institution to risk imminent violence to students and others.”
Spencer had been a headline speaker at the rally in Charlottesville last weekend, where a man drove his car into a group of counterprotestors, killing a woman named Heather Heyer and injuring at least 19 others.
On Monday, Texas A&M University announced that it was cancelling a “White Lives Matter” rally scheduled for September 11th on its College Station, Texas campus that would have featured Spencer as a speaker, “because of concerns about the safety of its students, faculty, staff, and the public.”
Dear Campus Community:
Amid serious concerns for safety, we have decided to deny the National Policy Institute’s request to rent event space at the University of Florida.
This decision was made after assessing potential risks with campus, community, state and federal law enforcement officials following violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., and continued calls online and in social media for similar violence in Gainesville such as those decreeing: “The Next Battlefield is in Florida.”
I find the racist rhetoric of Richard Spencer and white nationalism repugnant and counter to everything the university and this nation stands for.
That said, the University of Florida remains unwaveringly dedicated to free speech and the spirit of public discourse. However, the First Amendment does not require a public institution to risk imminent violence to students and others.
The likelihood of violence and potential injury – not the words or ideas – has caused us to take this action.
W. Kent Fuchs
President, University of Florida
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.
This article has been updated with additional information.