Why Is MSU Allowing White Nationalist Richard Spencer to Speak on Campus?

Should public universities provide venues for people like Spencer?

Michigan State University

White nationalist and alt-right organizer Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak at Michigan State University on Monday.

Spencer will speak in what amounts to a barn on an isolated corner of MSU, removed from the dorms and classrooms of its main campus.

The speech will also happen while students are on spring break.

A central question is what universities are required by law to do in these situations, as well as what they’re expected to do as public institutions of higher learning with missions that promote the free exchange of ideas.

Michigan State has granted Spencer a venue to speak, but is making efforts to distance itself from him and his ideas. 

“It’s not a legitimate debate,” says MSU Interim President John Engler. “I mean, he may have a First Amendment right to spew what he spews, but we don’t have to listen to it.”

Former MSU President Lou Anna Simon released this as part of a statement shortly after reaching a settlement agreement to have Spencer speak on campus:

“Michigan State is wholly dedicated to freedom of speech, not just as a public institution, but as an institution of higher education. Here, ideas — not people — are meant to clash and to be evaluated based on their merits.”

WDET’s Jake Neher and Michigan Public Radio’s Cheyna Roth talk about why MSU is allowing Spencer to speak, and how it’s handling the controversial situation.

Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation.


  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.
  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.