Get ready Bearcats! The Richard Spencer Show is coming to campus.

Spencer is best known for leading all those angry white guys in polo shirts waving Tiki torches and chanting anti-Semitic phrases down in Charlottesville last summer. But he’s been honing his image as an “Icon of White Supremacy” (as labeled by The Atlantic magazine) for nearly a decade. Spencer is the product of a tony Dallas prep school, with degrees from well-regarded universities. But despite such establishment roots, he quickly drifted into the crazy lane. He is chairman of the National Policy Institute, a “white identity think tank.” Spencer argues far, wide and loudly that our nation was meant to be run only by those with roots in “white Christiandom.” The rest of us can get lost.

Spencer is now on tour, basking in the ascendency of the so-called alt-right (an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and populism). He’s demanding access to college campuses as a way to 1) get attention for his fringe views and 2) call out the political correctness of those who will not provide him a platform.

In October Spencer rented an auditorium at the University of Florida for about $10,000. The university spent $600,000 for security, fearing violence of the Charlottesville kind. In the end, only about 400 curious people (or hecklers) showed up for Spencer in Gainesville.

UC also received a demand for a campus platform from Spencer. Governor John Kasich proclaimed that if he was a university president, he’d ban “hate speakers” like Spencer. But the university’s trustees were mindful of the First Amendment. Courts have ruled that if a public university makes space available for public speaking, they can’t deny access based on the speaker’s views, no matter how repugnant.

Objections to Spencer’s appearance at UC have come from left-leaning groups, arguing that UC is a vibrant urban campus with racially and ethnically diverse students and faculty from all corners of our country and planet. Why should UC provide a forum for Spencer’s loathsome arguments against Jews, Muslims, immigrants and people of color?

The political poles have reversed on this issue over the decades. When Ronald Reagan first ran for California governor, he railed against appearances at the Berkley campus of the University of California by Robert Kennedy and black activist Stokely Carmichael. Reagan argued, “Free speech does not require furnishing a podium for the speaker. I don’t think you should lend those people the prestige of our university campuses for the presentation of their views.” Reagan argued that letting a black radical like Carmichael speak was inviting violence. “We cannot have the university campus used as a base to foment riots.” Wouldn’t the same argument apply to Spencer in 2017, after the ugly violence in Virginia that his followers triggered only a few months ago?

Now it is conservatives like Spencer demanding campus access, and the political left pushing back. UC’s trustees decided to allow Spencer on campus, probably based on their lawyers’ advice.

Ronald Reagan was wrong about censoring free speech on campus in the 1960s and those on the left arguing to ban the likes of Spencer in 2017 are just as wrong now. Our great universities should provide forums for all political views, even the poisonous white supremacy of Richard Spencer.

UC President Neville Pinto said it well in a letter to the UC community explaining the decision: “We cannot silence those with whom we disagree without opening the doors to our own voices being silenced by those who disagree with us.”



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