HYDE PARK — Richard Spencer, a leader of the white nationalist movement, is angling to get an invite to speak at his alma mater, the University of Chicago, according to emails released Saturday.
U. of C. Law Professor Geoffrey Stone on Saturday published emails from Aug. 1 from Spencer, who asked for an invitation to speak at the university. Stone has defended Spencer's right to free speech while condemning his white nationalist ideas as "vile."
“I’m eager to return to campus, particularly [because the University has made clear that it] will not be a 'safe space,' in the sense of protecting students from dangerous ideas,” Spencer said in the email posted by Stone.
In August 2016, the university’s dean of students sent out a letter to incoming freshman saying it would not support intellectual “safe spaces,” a phrase that was interpreted by some groups that the university was open to speakers on white nationalism and other controversial ideas.
Spencer said he approached Stone to extend the invitation because Stone, in an April essay in the New York Times, had been critical of Auburn University’s attempts to cancel an event with Spencer because it feared there would be violent confrontations between his supporters and critics.
University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer had also said in February he would not stop Spencer from speaking on campus.
But when Spencer actually tried to get an invite to campus, he was shut down pretty quickly in a response by Stone.
“From what I have seen of your views, they do not seem to me to add anything of value to serious and reasoned discourse, which is of course the central goal of a university,” Stone wrote to Spencer. “Thus, although I would defend the right of others to invite you to speak, I don’t see any reason for me to encourage or to endorse such an event.”
In a Huffington Post essay where Stone initially published the emails between him and Spencer, Stone called Spencer’s ideas “ugly, ignorant, vile, hatred.”
As a private university, U. of C. does not have the same legal obligations to free speech that a public university does, but U. of C. in the past year has expressed an aggressively open stance towards intellectual debate on campus.
That has made it the target of people like Spencer, who uses the academic language he learned earning a master’s degree at U. of C. to promote the dissolution of the United States with new borders drawn around ethnically pure states.
Though Spencer has an intellectual kinship with some violent white nationalist groups, he has not personally advocated violence to achieve his goals, which could label him a threat and exclude him from speaking both at U. of C. and other universities.
The university’s policy is to only bar speech that violates the law, is a threat or harassment, unjustifiably invades privacy or violates confidentiality, defames a specific person or is directly incompatible with the functioning of the university.