Richard Spencer would like to speak at Penn State.
Penn State, however, is denying that request.
Spencer, the president of the National Policy Institute, has been in the news a lot since the alt-right clashed with protesters in Charlottesville, Va., leaving one woman dead and 19 injured when one reported white nationalist drove a car into the crowd. President Donald Trump’s comments in light of the incident, reflecting blame on “many sides” and “both sides” of the tragedy have pushed far right speakers like Spencer into the spotlight.
But Penn State President Eric Barron said in a statement Tuesday that “in light of the recent violence and tragedy in Charlottesville,” the university evaluated the request and is saying no.
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“I disagree profoundly with the content that has been presented publicly about this speaker’s views, which are abhorrent and contradictory to our university’s values. There is no place for hatred, bigotry or racism in our society and on our campuses,” he said.
The political storm that followed the Charlottesville incident saw at least two CEOs with Penn State ties step down from Trump’s manufacturing council, and the Friday resignation of Trump’s adviser Steve Bannon, who returned to far-right website Breitbart the same day. Penn State released a statement at that time about supporting free speech and encouraging thoughtful expression even in disagreement.
But Barron said the risks in this case outweigh the debate.
“... The First Amendment does not require our university to risk imminent violence,” he wrote. “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. It is the likelihood of disruption and violence, not the content, however odious, that drives our decision.”
The parallels with Charlottesville are there as the city is home to the University of Virginia, a school with an enrollment of about 22,000, about half that of Penn State’s University Park campus. According to 2015 data, Centre County has about 160,000 people to Albemarle County’s 106,000. Both have large rural areas and a lot of agriculture. Hillary Clinton won both counties in the November presidential election, but with strong turnout for Trump.
“As we enter the new semester with a national climate of great uncertainty, Penn State continues to foster an inclusive climate for all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, genders and other differences. Our university strives to create an environment where everyone can teach, learn and live in an atmosphere of safety and mutual respect,” Barron said.
National Policy Institute could not be reached for comment.