Free speech and U

Free speech is a hot topic on college campuses. College is a time and place for intellectual, personal, social and ethical development. Through its policies, the University of Utah believes these goals can best be achieved in an open and supportive environment that encourages reasoned discourse, honesty and respect for the rights of all individuals.

The U has a speech policy that covers everything from academic freedom to the posting of signs. Policy 1-007-University Speech Policy is lengthy (about 6,000+ words) and available to read in-full online, but there are parts that raise questions more frequently. Below we’ve distilled some speech policy FAQs.

Where is free speech and assembly allowed on campus?

All open spaces outside of buildings are available for assembly and speech. In years past, the U had designated the Union Plaza as the “free speech zone,” but it has grown to include all outdoor areas on campus.

What about freedom of speech in class?

The speech policy states the following:

Discussion and expression of all views relevant to the subject matter of a class are recognized as necessary to the educational process, but students have no right to impinge on the freedom of instructors to teach or the right of other students to learn. If a student persists in behaving disruptively in class after the instructor has explained the unacceptability of such conduct, the instructor may dismiss the student from the class and may refer the matter to the University’s Student Behavior Committee. Upon dismissing a student from class, the instructor shall immediately notify the Dean of Students of the action so the student may be informed of the student’s right to appeal the dismissal.

Is there a policy for bringing speakers to campus?

Yes. You’ll find it under the section III. General Policies, subsection N.

Members of the University community and their organizations shall have the right to invite speakers to address audiences on campus (at the expense of the organization and members), subject only to reasonable and nondiscriminatory regulations governing the use of University facilities. The rights of speakers to freedom of expression under the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Utah shall be protected. The rights of speakers to speak and audiences to hear free from undue disruption and interference shall also be protected.

Members of the University community and their organizations who invite speakers to address audiences on or off the campus, except University organizations designated by the University or any college or department as an official organization of the University, may not use the name of the University to imply official University sponsorship of the speaker in advertising or publicizing the event, except to identify the location of the event.

Can signs and notices be posted anywhere by anybody?

Short answer: No. The university has a process for that. Posting of signs, notices and posters is part of the U’s speech policy (section V. Signs, Literature and Structures). The general policy is the following:

The University shall provide reasonable space indoors and outdoors for the posting of signs, notices and posters by members of the University community and their organizations. Such signs, notices and posters may deal with any subject matter including, but not limited to, notices of meetings or events and expressions of positions and ideas on social or political topics, and must clearly identify the author or sponsor of the materials.

Members of the University community and their organizations may post signs, notices and posters on bulletin boards and kiosks maintained by the University and located on the campus. Signs, notices and posters shall not be attached to trees, buildings, walls or other University structures unless otherwise expressly authorized by the Scheduling Office. Messages or slogans of any kind shall not be painted or otherwise written on trees, buildings, sidewalks, grounds fountains, walls or other University structures or surfaces, or on the personal property of others.

We hope this answers some of your most pressing questions about free speech on campus. Let us know what other questions you have about university policy and processes.