photo of the large, red, block U sculpture on the University of Utah campus.

Free speech and the campus community

The University of Utah is a champion of free speech and respects the opinions of its faculty, staff and students. However, as an institution of higher education, and a state-run entity, we must be careful about who is speaking for themselves, and who is speaking on behalf of the university.

Employees are welcome to weigh in on any issues of public concern and are free to lobby politically and support political candidates. They must do so though in a personal capacity, outside of work hours and using their own resources.

This means that employees should not use university email accounts, letterhead, office supplies and equipment or other university resources to engage in these activities. In addition, employees are expected to make it clear that they are speaking on their own behalf and not on behalf of the university.

Academic freedom is of the utmost importance for faculty at the university. It is recognized as a right of all members of the faculty, whether with or without tenure or continuing appointment, of all administrative officers, and of all students. However, faculty members must avoid exploiting the university’s name, brand or their own relationship with the university for personal reasons unrelated to their legitimate academic or professional activities. They must not intentionally create the impression, in public appearances or statements, that they are representing the university unless, in fact, they are.

The university has a wide-ranging policy regarding free speech on campus with guidelines on everything from organizing demonstrations on campus to hanging posters or signs to setting up student organizations. Most answers to questions about free speech on campus—and by students, faculty, and staff—can be found in it.

Members of the campus community must remember that protection of free speech does not mean protection from the consequences of it. Speaking out means being willing to be criticized, to face blowback, and to deal with real world consequences. This is especially true when the speech in question violates university policies or puts members of the community at risk.

The First Amendment is one of the building blocks of freedom in the United States of America. Each individual on the University of Utah campus has a right to it. But we must also protect the university’s neutrality when it comes to issues being debated. Working together we can all make sure our voices are heard, and the university remains a place of reasoned discourse, honesty and respect for the rights of all individuals.