Hundreds of faculty, staff and students signed a letter decrying the university’s decision to allow a controversial speaker on the University of New Mexico campus.
The letter addressed to acting President Chaouki Abdallah states the decision to allow Milo Yiannopoulos, a British controversial right-wing speaker, undermines the university’s goal of creating a safe environment for students to learn.
The group specifically criticized an administrative decision that allowed the UNM College Republicans, the group hosting the speaker, to avoid a $3,400 security fee. The university could still collect that fee following a legal review of a policy covering student events and security charges.
“Why should one invited media pundit be given so much university attention and allocation of resources so that he can have his rights to preach hate?” they asked in the letter.
Yiannopoulos, who is gay, visited campus as part of his “Dangerous Faggot Tour.” In his speech at UNM, he said Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to enter the country and that the audience should report undocumented immigrants to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Yiannopoulos’ event at UNM drew protests both from those who thought the fee was an attempt to prevent the firebrand from speaking and those who believe his comments to be hate speech. Those who signed the letter fall into the latter category.
That group also wrote that the university should reinstate the security fee policy and charge what the event cost the university. They also want forums to discuss free speech vs. “fighting words,” those meant to incite violence, and the role of police on campus.
The event in late January – which drew about 500 in the audience – attracted roughly 250 protesters, and officers in riot gear broke up the crowd outside. Lt. Tim Stump, the spokesman for the UNM police department, said police arrested six people at the event, five on charges of battery on police and one on an assault on police. He said there were no reports of injuries or property damage. In contrast, protests of Yiannopoulos at the University of California, Berkeley earlier this week turned violent and law enforcement canceled the event.
Amy Wohlert, the president’s chief of staff, confirmed Wednesday that Abdallah received the letter and said that he couldn’t respond to every message individually.
“He has and will continue to communicate through messages to the campus community, expressing his thoughts and position on important matters of safety, security, free speech and other critical issues, such as federal policy changes affecting international and undocumented students,” Wohlert said in a statement.