Following the controversial campus visit of white supremacist Richard Spencer on Dec. 6, Texas A&M has updated its policy on third party speakers.
Per the new policy, any third party who wishes to use the campus facilities has to secure a sponsorship from a university recognized student group, A&M academic or administrative unit, or from an A&M System member. The sponsorship has to come at least 14 days before the event.
University spokeswoman Amy Smith said the policy changes came as a result of unwelcome speakers, but added that it also had to do with limited space at A&M. Smith said in the last several years, about 4,000 students have been added to campus, and some student organizations have had to hold meetings as late as 10 p.m. in order to have an available venue.
“Our priority is first and foremost to requirements of our faculty and students,” Smith said. “Those student, faculty and/or staff campus groups may themselves end up bringing a controversial speaker to campus. That’s not the issue here. The issue is undue burden on a limited room capacity and undue burden at times on resources required by external individuals or groups with no affiliation with our university.”
Smith said despite the changes, there is nothing stopping a group from inviting a controversial speaker to campus.
“Recognized campus groups very well may sponsor a controversial speaker in the future,” Smith said. “This policy is about serving first our own university students, faculty and staff with limited space and times available due to our growing numbers. Who they choose to sponsor is up to each campus group.”
Student groups will likely not have their university recognized status revoked if they do choose to invite a controversial speaker to campus, Smith said.
“I cannot imagine a situation where a campus organization could have their status revoked for sponsoring a controversial speaker apart from inciting or committing criminal acts in conjunction with the speaker, and that would be adjudicated through campus judicial conduct processes as well as law enforcement,” Smith said.
Smith also said the policy does not bar anyone from walking onto campus and speaking in an open space, such as Academic Plaza.
Students have spoken both for and against the new policy changes, including applied mathematical sciences junior Matthew Marshall. Overall, Marshall said he favors the policy, but is hesitant about it.
“In theory, I agree with it, just because it helps ensure that if someone here is speaking, they either went to A&M, or know people from A&M who are inviting them,” Marshall said. “But at the same time it’s a slippery slope because it opens the door for abuse of power.”
Engineering freshman Tres Duytschaever said he doesn’t agree with the policy change.
“I understand where the policy is coming from, but I don’t see why we had to change it,” Duytschaever said. “It’s pretty clear this was a knee jerk reaction to one bad thing, that wasn’t really even that bad. If you disagree with a speaker, disprove their points — silencing them isn’t the answer.”
Duytschaever also said he believes the policy had more to do with Spencer’s speech, than with the capacity issue Smith spoke about.
“I can understand the university trying to keep someone like [Spencer] out,” Duytschaever said. “But it’s dangerous having this level of oversight on the variety of voices that you can hear on college campuses. Agree with them or not, trying to silence those voices creates an echo chamber.”
Marshall also said he believes the policy change will prevent controversial speakers from coming to campus.
“I think it will [prevent controversial speakers], because the groups that are recognized by the university aren’t going to want to put their name on that controversy,” Marshall said. “Some of them will, but a lot of them won’t. It still makes me nervous though, because it shifts power to the university’s hands.”