After flip-flopping on whether or not white nationalist Richard Spencer can speak at the University of Florida, University President Kent Fuchs has now told students that he is “shocked” that he must uphold the First Amendment.
Originally, Fuchs stood by free speech, citing a university regulation which states that non-university groups, organizations, and persons may rent space on campus, provided they cover rental expenses and security costs like all other third-party renters. Four days later, Fuchs reversed his decision due to security concerns, where he wrongly used the heckler’s veto as he stated that “[T]he First Amendment does not require a public institution to risk imminent violence to students and others.”
Now it seems as though the university president has changed his mind again, perhaps after realizing UF is truly legally obligated to host Spencer.
In an email sent on Tuesday to students with the subject line “Personal message from President Fuchs,” the university president explained that Richard Spencer will be speaking on campus on Thursday, October 19.
“The values of our universities are not shared by Mr. Spencer, the National Policy Institute or his followers,” he wrote, after referring to the University of Virginia and the University of California-Berkeley as campuses who have experienced “messages of racism and hate by inciting protest, which has led to violence.”
While Fuchs did not specifically name which speakers at UC-Berkeley perpetuated “messages of racism and hate,” many conservative students at UF feel as though it’s an attack on Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos.
“Extreamly [sic] disappointed that University of Florida President Kent Fuchs would compare mainstream conservative Ben Shapiro and Young America’s Foundation to Richard Spencer. YAF has stood against racism since it’s founding as does conservatism. Alienating conservative students on campus is not how we get through these trying times,” Daniel Weldon, chair of the Young Americans for Freedom chapter at UF posted to Facebook.
Fuchs went on to state that he is surprised by his obligation to uphold the First Amendment at the public university.
“If you are like me, I expect you are surprised and even shocked to learn that UF is required by law to allow Mr. Spencer to speak his racist views on our campus, and that we are not allowed by law to bill him for the full costs of keeping our campus safe, which exceed more than a half million dollars,” Fuchs wrote.
As a result, the university has created a “UF Free Speech” website at freespeech.ufl.edu to educate Gators on the responsibilities of a public university in regards to free speech. It has a Q&A page that specifically addresses questions such as “Didn’t the university originally deny Richard Spencer’s request?” and “Can I get an excused absence from an exam or assignment for the day Spencer is on campus?”
For those wondering – “UF faculty have been asked to be understanding with students on a case-by-case basis. However, faculty should not cancel classes without consulting with their Dean,” according to the Q&A website.