michigan

Spencer lawyer to UM: Set a speech date or we’ll sue

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Protesters against white supremacist Richard Spencer demand an audience with UM Dearborn Chancellor Daniel Little, who explains the university's policy on free speech.
David Guralnick, The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — An attorney for Richard Spencer said Thursday that he will sue the University of Michigan unless the school by Jan. 15 schedules a date for an appearance by the white supremacist leader.

In a news release, Clinton Township attorney Kyle Bristow said organizers want to rent a room where Spencer and other white nationalist figures can speak during UM’s spring break from Feb. 24-March 24.

In response to a request from Cameron Padgett of Spencer’s National Policy Institute, UM offered the group four dates – Nov. 29, Nov. 30, Dec. 27 and Dec. 28 – “but none of them have been convenient for the event organizers,” Bristow said.

“There will be no further extension of my client’s demand to be permitted to exercise his constitutional right to free speech,” Bristow said. “We’ve been patient but our patience has its limits.”

UM is in touch with Spencer’s attorney about his request to speak on campus, a school official told the Board of Regents on Thursday.

Timothy Lynch, UM vice president and general counsel, said the school will have no further updates on Spencer’s request until next year.

“The university is talking with Mr. Spencer’s attorney and we will continue the process, keeping in mind safety is the university’s primary concern,” Lynch said.

Meanwhile, UM officials faced students opposed to Spencer’s appearance at the regents’ meeting and during a protest earlier in the day at the school’s Dearborn campus.

Anushka Sarkar, UM student body president, says 5,000 students and 6,200 alumni have signed a petition against having Spencer speak on campus. She cited incidents at other schools where Spencer has appeared, including the University of Florida.

“Safety and security of students should be the university’s primary concern,” Sarkar told the regents. “We will not be safe if he and his followers come to this campus ... Richard Spencer should not be accommodated.”

A student organizer of a protest last week, Neala Berkowski, told the regents: “Student workers should have a say if they will be working this event ... they should be very aware of their safety at work.”

Alumna Jessica Prozinski said she is committed to preventing such an event “because his appearance will be used by his followers to cause violence before and after his speech.”

“You are being outmaneuvered by fascists ... You have the legal arguments you need to refuse him from proceeding or at least to try,” said Prozinski, a member of Stop Trump Ann Arbor.

Regent Mark Bernstein responded that the board believes it has to let Spencer speak. “If you give the government, which is what this institution is, the right to say no, the right to stop speech they don’t agree with, they will,” he said.

UM officials decided on Nov. 21 to enter into talks with Spencer about his request to speak on the Ann Arbor campus.

Spencer had threatened a lawsuit against the university if UM did not respond to his request. He sued Michigan State University in September after the school denied his request to speak there.

Earlier Thursday, dozens of students at the University of Michigan-Dearborn marched from the University Center to the administration building to protest Spencer’s possible UM appearance and met with campus Chancellor Daniel Little.

Spencer’s appearances at other campuses have been accompanied by protests, including a speech in October at the University of Florida. The University of Cincinnati said this week that Spencer would be allowed to speak at the southwest Ohio school in March.

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter:@SarahRahal_

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