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Ohio State, PSU Face Lawsuits for Denying Richard Spencer Appearances

Penn State has been sued and Ohio State has been threatened with a lawsuit for not renting out space on campus to controversial speaker Richard Spencer.

Ohio State, PSU Face Lawsuits for Denying Richard Spencer Appearances

On the other hand, the University of Cincinnati stands by its decision to allow Spencer to speak on campus, citing the fundamental role of free speech at public universities.

Colleges and universities across the country are still taking different approaches in how they handle renting out space on campus to controversial speakers.

Last week, Ohio State University officials denied a request to rent out space for an appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer, citing public safety risks. The school says it would decide by the end of this week if “viable alternatives” will be offered.

Before making the decision, an attorney representing the school says officials consulted with local law enforcement and took into consideration Spencer’s recent appearance at the University of Florida, reports the Miami Herald. Security measures for Spencer’s October 19 appearance on the Gainsville campus cost the school $600,000.

“The University values freedom of speech,” reads a letter from the Columbus school. “Nonetheless, the University has determined that it is not presently able to accommodate Mr. Padgett’s request to rent space at the university due to substantial risks to public safety, as well as material and substantial disruption.”

The request to host Spencer on November 15 comes from Cameron Padgett, a Georgia State University student who has been organizing a tour of campuses across the country for the alt-right speaker.

Spencer’s denial has been met by the threat of a lawsuit from Kyle Bristow, a lawyer for Spencer’s associates, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Bristow says he wants an “unequivocal and unconditional assertion” from the school by 5 p.m. Friday that it would allow Spencer to speak.

Penn State Sued by Organizer of Spencer Campus Tour

Penn State University has definitively been sued by Padgett after denying rental space to Richard in a July request.

“Due to the viewpoint of Spencer and NPI, people who are politically left of center find Spencer’s and NPI’s constitutionally protected political views to be objectionable,” reads part of the 10-page complaint by Padgett.

In an August 22 statement, PSU president Eric Barron said it would be a security risk for the school and deemed Spencer’s views “abhorrent”, according to the Post-Gazette.

“After critical assessment by campus police, in consultation with state and federal law enforcement officials, we have determined that Mr. Spencer is not welcome on our campus, as this event at this time presents a major security risk to students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus,” reads the statement. “It is the likelihood of disruption and violence, not the content, however odious, that drives our decision.”

Padgett’s complaint also points to the fact that anti-fascist protesters have been violent towards Spencer and his supporters during appearances on other campuses.

Back in May, Padgett successfully sued Auburn University for $29,000 for canceling an April appearance by Spencer, citing safety concerns as well.

University of Cincinnati Approves Spencer Appearance

However, not all colleges are refusing to allow Spencer to speak on campus. The University of Cincinnati board of trustrees is defending its decision to allow Spencer to speak on the Ohio campus.

On Tuesday, the board unanimously agreed that allowing Spencer to speak is “reaffirming our core values” by upholding the First Amendment and the fundamental role of free speech at a public university, reports STL Today.

In the same breath, the board also condemned Spencer’s views, stating, “Hate has no place on our campus or in our world.”

“For higher education to maintain its pride of place as the marketplace of ideas, we have a responsibility as teachers, scholars, learners and trustees to drive out bad ideas with better ones,” reads a statement from the board.

At the board meeting, UC president Neville Pinto emphasized that Spencer was invited by Padgett and not anyone associated with the university. He assured that the school’s top priority will be the safety and security of its community and they will be working with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

“This request to speak is provoking fear and unease for our community, especially those who are direct targets of his hate, prejudice and racism,” says Pinto.

Bristow says Spencer’s appearance at UC will most likely happen early next year.

About the Author

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Amy Rock is Campus Safety's senior editor. She graduated from UMass Amherst with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and a minor in Education.

She has worked in the publishing industry since 2011, in both events and digital marketing.

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One response to “Ohio State, PSU Face Lawsuits for Denying Richard Spencer Appearances”

  1. karvictho says:

    Not being able to spend upwards of $600,000 to protect a speaker at a state funded university is not squashing the speaker’s right to exercise free speech. Florida charged Spencer $10,000 for the space and security, the going rate … so no discrimination against Spencer in this area … but then had to ante up the additional $590,000 to protect him and those around him. Why? What was special about Florida State… other than Spencer wants the govt to foot the bill for his security. Spencer and his followers want to incite anger and violence … and I say let them and let them foot the bill.

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