Statement on Academic Freedom and the Exercise of Free Speech

The university is and must be a site for the free expression of ideas. The following statement affirms vigorous support of academic freedom and the exercise of free speech, including demonstrations and protests, in a manner that protects the rights and safety of all members of the campus community. It is designed to provide guidance to all members of the campus community.

University of Puget Sound fully embraces, supports, and defends academic freedom as a fundamental expression of its mission and core values as a liberal arts college, and in accordance with the First Amendment right to free speech.

The community standards to which we ascribe as members of the faculty, staff, and student body call upon us to promote academic freedom and free speech, and to do so in a manner that protects the rights and safety of all members of the campus community. Our commitment to the free exchange of ideas includes the right to assemble, protest, and demonstrate in accordance with university policies designed to respect the rights, promote the dignity, and protect the safety of campus members and guests.

 Controversial topics

  • Both in and out of the classroom, the right to free expression extends to all ideas—including those that spark disagreement, are known to be false, or are antithetical to liberal arts ideals—but not to those that are discriminatory or defamatory.
  • Per guidelines established by the American Association of University Professors, professors may choose to restrict engagement in controversial topics during class time that are unrelated to course content.

Protests and demonstrations

  • All such events (including those that involve participation by alumni, local community members, or others) must be sponsored, organized and/or led by current students, faculty, or staff members.
  • Members of the campus community involved in a protest or demonstration are responsible for their academic requirements and/or employment obligations.
  • The university will preserve space on campus for campus-sponsored demonstration or protest to occur. If a demonstration or protest causes a material disruption to a campus event or essential operation, a representative of the college may ask those involved to relocate to an alternate location or to otherwise modify activities so as not to interfere with the rights of others, including the right to listen. 
  • Individuals or groups who fail to comply with such requests are in violation of college policies and may be subject to applicable conduct and safety policies (see below).
  • A material disruption is defined as interfering with university events, operations or services in a manner that intimidates or infringes upon the rights of others, including impeding the ability of others to attend, see, hear, speak, access or participate in events or activities; or materially threatening the safety of persons or property.
  • Protesters may neither impede nor harass pedestrians or vehicular traffic, or deny or obstruct use of pathways, offices, or facilities used by students, faculty, staff, or campus visitors.

 Distribution and public posting of materials

  • Members of the campus community are welcome to distribute and/or display material in accordance with university policies.
  • Distribution or posting of materials should not materially obstruct or disrupt classes, events, or other college operations such that it interferes with the ability of others to see, hear, speak, access, or participate in events or activities.
  • Distribution or posting of material that harasses or defames individuals or groups is not permitted. Defamation (also known as libel or slander) is a legal term defined in part as statements that are proven to be both false and damaging to another’s reputation. There is a higher burden of proof for public officials and figures.
  • Material that is defamatory or harassing should be removed upon discovery and reported to college officials.
  • Postings must comply with existing college policies designed to protect the safety of persons and property (including those that specify on what surfaces and with what substances postings can be made) and are defined as those made in contexts both physical (i.e.,walls, doors, sidewalks) and electronic (i.e., blogs, websites, social media).
  • Anonymous authors exercising the right to free expression are responsible for the content of their speech or other form of expression.
  • Absent the ability to contact those responsible for anonymously-authored and posted or distributed material, any member of the campus community may remove or delete such material at any time.
  • All physical postings will be removed at the end of the event to which they are related.

Representing the university

Every person has the right to have an opinion and state it publicly. Members of the campus community are encouraged to make clear in their public expressions, writings, demonstrations, or posts if they are speaking on behalf of a group or the university as a whole, or if they are speaking only for themselves and sharing thoughts that do not necessarily represent the views of the university or the university community as a whole.

Time, place, and manner

University officials have the right and responsibility to limit the time, place, and manner of protests or demonstrations to ensure that they do not censor or obstruct the exchange of ideas or place individuals or campus property at risk. Criteria to be considered before requesting relocation of a protest or demonstration include:

  • Is personal safety at risk?
  • Is property at risk?
  • Is the ability of others to see, hear, or speak disrupted to such a degree that they are not able to exercise their rights to free speech and freedom of movement?

Adherence to law and policy

Any action or communication that violates university policy or federal, state, or local law is prohibited.

Related information

Initial Posting Date: 3/2019
Contact: Vice President for Communications and Chief of Staff