A day before white nationalist Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak at the University of Florida, its president affirmed his belief in free speech but said the security costs of holding such an event at a public university put an unfair burden on taxpayers.
UF President W. Kent Fuchs said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press that Spencer is “hijacking” public universities — which are compelled by the First Amendment to provide a speaking forum — and forcing taxpayers to pay the resulting security costs.
Fuchs estimates the school will spend $600,000 on security for Spencer’s planned speech Thursday. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the government, in this case a public university, cannot charge speakers for security costs.
Spencer’s National Policy Institute is paying $10,564 to rent space for the speaking event.
“I fully understand freedom of speech cannot be burdened legally with the full cost of this, but on the other hand we’re being burdened,” said Fuchs, sitting in his office on campus in Gainesville. “So taxpayers are subsidizing hate speech.”
Following the August violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one counter demonstrator dead, Fuchs said high security costs are required to ensure a reasonable amount of safety.
The school has called in hundreds of law enforcement officers from federal, state, county and city sources. Streets will be blocked off, and movement around the campus tightly controlled.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency Monday, saying a “threat of a potential emergency is imminent” in Alachua County, where the school is located. The order allowed local law enforcement to partner with other agencies.
Cameron Padgett, a Georgia State University student who organized the event at University of Florida for Spencer, called the high security costs “discouraging,” and said anyone from either side who incites violence should be arrested.
“That money should be used for scholarships, more research or stay with the taxpayers. But at the end of the day free speech needs to be protected,” he said.
After Scott’s emergency declaration, Fuchs said the school received many calls from parents concerned about safety. Fuchs had told students prior to the governor’s announcement to go to class as usual, and said the campus would remain open.
Fuchs said he supported the governor’s decision because it was requested by law enforcement, but admitted it created challenges for his administration.
“Parents want to know, ‘Why is the governor declaring a state of emergency and yet you President Fuchs are saying my son or daughter should be going to class?’ That (announcement) elevated that tension, locally with parents and brought a national visibility to this,” Fuchs said.
Fuchs said he hopes the event will end up bringing the community closer together, and that it can be used to create a dialogue about race.
Student leaders are hosting a “virtual assembly” via Facebook during Spencer’s event to discuss race relations and diversity.