CINCINNATI — The decision to allow white nationalist Richard Spencer to speak at the University of Cincinnati is generating strong reactions from the school community.
The university announced in October that it would allow Spencer to speak. At the time, UC’s board of trustees condemned hate, but cited the fundamental right to free speech at a public university.
Messages to first-year president Neville Pinto and other administrators obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request show that crosstown basketball rival Xavier University was among the first to offer support.
Xavier spokeswoman Kelly Leon wrote in an email that her school would help in any way that it could.
She shared the Xavier leadership’s Oct. 16 statement assuring the private Catholic school’s community that while its policies uphold the First Amendment, “Speakers and events that are designed to spread hatred and invoke violence … are not welcome and will not be tolerated on our campus.”
Leon said Spencer has not requested to speak at Xavier.
Spencer’s attorney, Kyle Bristow, has said Spencer will be at UC on March 14, during spring break. The school said no contract has been signed.
Bristow has lawsuits pending against Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State for not allowing Spencer to speak.
UC English professor Russel Durst wrote to Pinto twice by email, first urging him not to allow Spencer to appear and then criticizing him for allegedly buckling under pressure.
“As a Jewish person, I feel personally targeted,” Durst said in an interview on Tuesday. “I feel that it’s not educational at all; it’s just promoting hate.”
Durst said that he is “very fond of” and impressed by Pinto overall as president and added that if Spencer is speaking at UC, he is pleased it will be during spring break when most students and employees will be away.
Messages released by the school indicated that faculty, alumni and students who wrote in the days following the decision to allow Spencer to speak were nearly evenly divided between supporting and condemning it.
“Leaders often lack the strength and clarity to handle such conflicts in a principled, honest, and effective way,” UC professor Louis Bilionis, the law school’s former dean, wrote to Pinto. “Thanks for leading UC well.”
Spencer uses the term “alt-right” to describe a mix of racism, white nationalism and anti-immigration views. Pinto, who took office in February after serving as acting president at the University of Louisville, was born in India.
The records show that UC officials quickly drew up “talking points” for communicating with the parents of students, emphasizing that student safety and security would be the top priority. The school created an online site about the decision.
The UC Progressive Alliance, a self-described coalition of student groups, wrote to school officials that while it agreed that free speech is a right, “we as students have the right to feel safe on campus” and that Spencer’s presence on campus would threaten that right.
Authorities estimated security costs at $600,000 for Spencer’s Oct. 19 appearance at the University of Florida, where counter-protesters far outnumbered Spencer supporters and booed him off stage. Spencer was a scheduled speaker at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August that led to deadly violence when a man struck and killed a protester with his car.
A late September email exchange showed that a school events services official initially indicated Spencer could book a space for a $1,500 fee. Georgia State University student Cameron Padgett, who made the request, responded with thanks and advised: “The speaker Richard Spencer is controversial, so I wanted to be clear on that.”
Padgett’s comment turned out to be an understatement amid the flurry of responses that followed.