Request by Richard Spencer to speak on the U-M campus

To All Members of the University of Michigan Community:

I apologize for the short notice to our community, as many are already heading out of town for the holiday. We only today have finalized plans for how we will proceed, and we wanted to share this information as soon as possible, knowing that we will continue to have conversations in the coming weeks.

After consulting widely with many members of our community, I made the difficult decision to begin discussions with Richard Spencer’s group to determine whether he will be allowed to rent space to speak on the University of Michigan campus. If we cannot assure a reasonably safe setting for the event, we will not allow it to go forward.

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.

My foremost priority is ensuring the safety of everyone at this university. 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. 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. Let me repeat: If we cannot assure a reasonably safe setting for the event, we will not allow it to go forward.

If we do decide a safe event is possible, we would share that information with the U-M community in advance.

Let me be clear. U-M has not invited this individual to our campus, nor is anyone in our community sponsoring him. His representatives made a request to rent space on our campus for him to speak. We are legally prohibited from blocking such requests based solely on the content of that speech, however sickening it is.

Since the request came in, I have grappled with how to distance my personal feelings from the important safety considerations I must weigh as president. I recognize that an appearance by Spencer will cause genuine emotional hurt to many members of our community.

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.

We have heard from many of you about your concerns since the request was submitted. We discussed these concerns with many members of our community as we weighed our options:

  1. As I mentioned, making the appearance as safe as possible for the members of our community and all involved was our foremost concern.We will continue to rely on a thorough assessment of safety considerations by our Division of Public Safety and Security.In general, limits on time, place, and manner of speech have been upheld in lawsuits alleging violations of First Amendment rights; content-based prior restraint – or denying the opportunity to speak in advance – has not. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. As painful as it is to allow this speaker to rent our space, a democratic society without free speech is unimaginable.Historically, it is the speech rights of people from marginalized groups that are most often threatened, and always essential. 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.

Here’s what we can do as a community.

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

We can also 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 also 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. I will also encourage everyone to stay away from areas where the presence of his supporters might contribute to an unstable situation, which will help to keep our community safe while at the same time standing up for our values.

We have created a website with information about the request. It will be updated as details are developed.

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.


Mark S. Schlissel