August 22, 2017
Penn State President Eric Barron said in a statement Tuesday that while the university values free speech, the school community should not be at risk of violence by allowing white supremacist Richard Spencer to speak on campus.
Barron said he denied Spencer's request to speak on school grounds after consultation with university, state and federal law enforcement officials. Spencer is "not welcome" on campus, as he "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," said Barron, who added that Spencer's views are "abhorrent" and contradictory to the school's values.
Following the violence at a rally of white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville that left three dead earlier this month, Barron said that Penn State values free speech, but that what happened in the Virginia town was not a civil discussion.
"We watched people using hatred, bigotry and violence to intimidate and terrorize a peaceful community," he said.
Spencer is president of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Spencer has advocated for a homeland for a dispossessed white race, a “peaceful ethnic cleansing” and the preservation of European culture.
Over the past year or so, colleges across the country have been struggling with how to deal with requests from controversial speakers like Spencer, Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos to hold events on campuses.
In September 2016, Republican students at Villanova Universty abandoned plans to have Yiannopoulos, a leader of the "alt-right" movement, speak after harsh backlash from other students.
In some cases, schools have cited fear of violence as reason not to allow some speakers on campus, like at UC Berkeley, where Coulter and Yiannopoulos events were canceled because of security risks.
Barron employed the same reasoning in his announcement not to allow Spencer to speak on campus.
"As stated last week, Penn State is an institution of higher education and fully supports the right of free speech and encourages its expression in thoughtful and respectful ways, even when we strongly disagree with the opinions expressed," Barron said. "But the First Amendment does not require our University to risk imminent violence."