If Ohio State University is ordered by a judge to host Richard Spencer, it might consider how a Florida university handled the white nationalist’s visit on Thursday.
The University of Florida received kudos for communicating with students and the community well in advance of Spencer’s arrival, while controlling the when, where and how regarding his speech and opponents’ protests.
University President W. Kent Fuchs asked two things of Florida students: to not protest Spencer’s speech, but to instead raise their voices in opposition in other ways, university spokeswoman Janine Sikes said. The university also asked the faith community to encourage its members not to show up to protest.
The university promoted a student-created digital campaign, #TogetherUF.
“Peace, love and Gators” was the week’s mantra, Sikes said.
That only an estimated 2,000 people protested on a campus of 55,000 students indicated to Sikes that most acceded to the university’s wishes.
Banners denouncing Spencer and racism hung from university dormitory windows, and anti-hate speeches popped up around campus.
A new rule this year in Ohio State’s residential living handbook prohibits the posting or hanging of signs or materials in or around residence-hall windows. Windows must remain clear from obstruction, the rule stipulates.
As Spencer was about to speak at Florida, a music professor played what is known as the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” from the university’s bell tower, Sikes said.
In the room where Spikes was speaking, a majority of the ticket holders were opposed to his visit and shouted and chanted at him during his presentation.
On Friday, Ohio State officials said that although the university values free speech, Spencer’s proposed Columbus appearance represented a “substantial risk to public safety,” and they refused a request to rent him space.
Spencer supporter Cameron Padgett, a Georgia State University student, sued Ohio State President Dr. Michael V. Drake and the university’s board of trustees on Sunday alleging violations of the U.S. Constitution’s free-speech and equal-protection amendments.
Last month, Padgett requested space for Spencer to lecture on campus. Padgett’s request came after the university had denied a similar request for Spencer to speak, citing safety concerns.
Michigan lawyer Kyle Bristow had been threatening to sue Ohio State and the University of Cincinnati on behalf of Padgett if the university refused to rent space for Spencer to speak. University of Cincinnati officials relented earlier this month but have not set a date for Spencer’s appearance.
In a teleconference with a federal judge Monday, Padgett’s attorney said he would seek a preliminary injunction banning Ohio State from refusing Spencer the right to speak on campus.
Florida refused Spencer his first requested date because it was too soon after the Aug. 12 death of a protester run over by an Ohio man in Charlottesville, Virginia. The death occurred after a melee over the proposed removal of a Robert E. Lee statute from a park.
“When they came back and asked for another day, the decision was made that it would be an off-football week, in the middle of the week, in the middle of the day,” Sikes said. If the university had to provide Spencer a venue, it would be on the university’s terms, she said.
Security was similar to that for a Saturday football game, involving many police agencies, Sikes said.
“We had a security plan that was absolutely comprehensive and, some might say, over the top,” she said.
Certain roads into the university were closed, and vehicles were prohibited anywhere near the designated protest areas outside the university’s Phillips Center, where Spencer eventually was heckled off the stage. Water-filled barriers, police vehicles and police bicycles chained together cordoned off the areas.
“This was not a yellow-tape event,” University Police Maj. Brad Barber said.
Barber said the university posted a lengthy online list of items that would be prohibited in the protest areas. Banned were weapons of any type, including flags, poles and athletic equipment that could be used as a weapon. Drones, tents, megaphones, pets, grills, glass bottles or water bottles also weren’t allowed.
Personnel from 45 agencies patrolled in and around the Phillips Center, around the campus and in the surrounding Gainesville area. Barber estimated the security cost to the university at $500,000.
He said two people were arrested during the speech: a security guard hired by a Jacksonville TV station who was caught with a gun, and a man who refused to park his bicycle — another item on the prohibited list.
After the event, as protests were wrapping up, three men in a car heckled an anti-Spencer crowd, and one of the men fired a gun, missing the group and striking a nearby building. The three were arrested a short time later outside Gainesville.
The heavy police presence and banning of vehicles closer to the center proved “indicative that we took the correct precaution,” Sikes said.