Richard Spencer and company knew exactly what they were doing when the white nationalist asked to speak at Kent State University on May 4. They know what the day means to the Kent community, the time and effort invested each year to commemorate the shooting deaths of four young people at the hand of the National Guard, one of the darkest episodes of the Vietnam War era.

By going for May 4, Spencer looks to generate more controversy and attention. He is nothing if not a self-promoter, eager to play the victim, not to mention head to court, if universities choose to deny his request to speak.

No surprise that Kent State said no, arguing that the closing days of a semester are “exceptionally busy … with numerous activities marking the end of the our academic year.” With its explanation, the university is seeking to steer clear of First Amendment concerns and make the rejection about timing.

Follow the logic of its thinking, and the school is suggesting a better time can be found. Or that, yes, Spencer can speak on our campus.

That may infuriate many at Kent. Spencer holds views that are ugly, divisive and racist, counter to what makes the country great. Yet allowing him to speak is the right thing to do. Thus, the school would do well to avoid the court fights that Spencer has triggered with other universities, including Ohio State and Cincinnati.

In saying no to the May 4 date, Kent indicated that Spencer would need a campus sponsor. As Bill Rich, a professor at the University of Akron law school, told Katie Byard of the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com, such a condition must be applied consistently and without regard to the views of the speaker. Yet even if applied so, the rule can risk shutting out voices.

Since the violence at the University of Virginia last August, Spencer the headliner at a Unite the Right rally that included marchers with torches shouting Nazi-like slogans and the death of a woman protesting the event, security has become an elevated concern. No question, a threat to public safety can be reason to block speech. But the threshold again is high. The danger must be real and specific. Worry and fear fall short.

That may mean steep security costs, the University of Florida citing $500,000 for a Spencer speech. It is a necessary burden.

Universities are open forums, about the exchange of ideas, exploring and thinking critically. That includes confronting the vile words and thoughts of Spencer and allies. It points to the appropriate response of peaceful protest, answering speech with speech, as the old saying goes, exposing the half-truths and complete falsehoods, presenting a counter narrative.

Richard Spencer couldn’t be more plain. He seeks to exploit the country’s highest values and principles, challenging universities to let him have his say. He actually gains when schools and others throw up barriers.

So let him speak, all the while trusting in the power of better ideas, about decency and inclusion, equality and opportunity.