Student Rights & Grievances - Free Expression

Freedom of Expression, Standards of Student Conduct, and the Principles of Community

(Excerpted and adapted from Guidelines for Applying the Principles of Community, December, 2003.)

UC Davis is a diverse community comprised of individuals having many perspectives and abilities, of many faiths, cultures, races, orientations, with divergent needs and goals. In creating an inclusive and intellectually vibrant community, we must understand and value both our individual differences and our common ground. This commitment, and the ideals to which we aspire, are embodied in the UC Davis Principles of Community.

The University's missions of teaching, research, and service advance the quest for knowledge and understanding. Freedom of expression and the uninhibited exchange of views, information, and ideas are critical to our goals; learning and discovery flourish in the fertile soil of respect, objectivity, and openness, exemplified by a willingness to hear and consider the new, and students, staff and faculty of UC Davis enjoy free speech protections under the Constitutions of the United States and the State of California. UC Davis policies regarding discrimination are not intended to regulate protected speech, and are to be implemented with full recognition of the importance of rights of free expression. UC policies provide that "all persons may exercise the constitutionally protected rights of free expression, speech, assembly, and worship."

To preserve these rights for all, the campus has adopted reasonable time, place and manner regulations that are content-neutral as necessary to prevent interference with its teaching, learning, research, and service functions. With respect to campus areas "open to the public generally," University policy provides for free speech "and distribution and sale of noncommercial literature incidental to the exercise of these freedoms," but these activities "shall not interfere with the orderly operation of the campus."

Classrooms, laboratories, libraries, offices, and residence halls are not "public" areas of the campus open to access and use by anyone at any time. Instead, such facilities are restricted to University functions and activities (e.g., only enrolled students may be present in class, except with the instructor's permission, and "door-to-door" sales are prohibited in residence halls and in faculty/staff office buildings or research labs).

Restrictions are placed on public speech only as necessary to meet legitimate concerns such as preventing disruption of campus functions and activities; protecting safety; avoiding congestion; fairly apportioning scarce facilities and resources; and enabling differing views to be heard. The speaker and the protester, the politician and the dissident, the preacher and the atheist have the same rights of expression. If space and time have been allotted or reserved, the speaker has a right to communicate her message to the audience, and those who wish to receive the message have a right to see and hear her. Any dissenters must do so in a way that does not substantially impair or obstruct communication between speaker and audience. Always, these restrictions must be enforced uniformly, and not based on the nature or content of the message.

Building an academic community requires a careful balance of rights and needs that are sometimes in conflict. The pursuit of knowledge demands the free exchange of ideas and open expression of opinions and findings, including those that some may find disturbing or offensive. Yet the ability to participate in a robust, open debate may be hampered if some do not feel accepted as respected members of the community, entitled to dignity and fair treatment. Similarly, efforts to quell unpopular opinions (e.g., by shouting down a speaker) stifle discourse and cut off dialogue.

Even statements of opinion or points of view that are derogatory or repugnant are, with rare exceptions, protected exercises of free speech. The First Amendment protects the right to think, say or write even unpopular, intolerant, or hateful ideas or views, including epithets, symbols, or slurs based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender or orientation. Merely saying, displaying or writing such words or symbols in a lawful manner (e.g., without vandalizing property, making threats, or disrupting University functions) is not a crime. With very few exceptions, expressions cannot be restricted or suppressed on the basis of the ideas and opinions they contain. Otherwise, government could arbitrarily censor discussion, teaching, research, or newspapers, or regulate what an individual must believe (religion, political creed), wear (clothing, hair style) or display (symbols, art).

To say that a statement is protected by free speech, however, does not end discussion -- even legal acts of intolerance and incivility erode our capacity to trust, and to work, live, and learn together. We can uphold both the need for respect and understanding and the right of free speech by responding appropriately to each incident. Crimes must be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent, and infringement of civil rights must be addressed by campus administrative processes and/or state or federal agencies. Discriminatory acts or violations of campus conduct standards, including disruption, are subject to disciplinary sanctions or grievances.

In many cases, the campus responds by creating a public forum for discussion, providing assistance, facilitating communication, and promoting our community ideal of respecting the dignity of each individual, whatever his/her background or personal characteristics. We all share responsibility for creating a just and respectful campus, for ensuring that acts of bias do not go unchallenged, and for providing support and assistance to targets of prejudice.