Students protest demonstration on campus. Photo by Breahna Luera

President Taylor Eighmy sent a university-wide email to inform students about Protected Expression on Campus, a new Texas law that went into effect Sept. 1.

The state law requires public universities to ensure that their campuses act as traditional public forums, to permit anyone to engage in lawful expressive activities that do not disrupt institution functioning and to adopt a policy detailing students’ free speech rights and responsibilities. The policy must be in place by Aug. 1, 2020.

According to Eighmy’s email, UTSA already had practices in place that support the purpose of the law.

“Most of the intended outcomes of the new law are already in practice at UTSA,” Eighmy said in the email. “We have a strong commitment and moral obligation to protect the principle of free speech and readily welcome members of the university community and beyond to engage in respectful expressions on campus.”

UTSA’s current policy on free speech is in the university’s Handbook of Operating Procedures (HOP). HOP 9.37 Peaceful Public Assembly provides specific information on permissible behavior, impermissible behavior, disruptive behavior, prohibited items, amplified sound, guest speakers, signs, distribution of literature, joint sponsorship, tables, exhibits, response to free expression and solicitation on campus.

“UTSA’s policy is currently reflected in HOP 9.37,” Jay Rosselló, UTSA chief legal officer, said. “As we work to incorporate certain aspects of Texas Senate Bill 18, HOP 9.37 and other policies will undergo amendments/changes.”

HOP 9.37 currently includes information on police patrol, response to violations and appeals to the denial of permission for activities that need advanced permission.

“HOP 9.37 provides discipline for students, faculty and staff who violate the policy, pursuant to the Student Code of Conduct or other applicable rules,” Rosselló said. “In accordance with SB 18, we will be amending our policies/processes to expressly establish disciplinary sanctions for those who unduly interfere with the expressive activities of others.”

In addition to providing information on the new state law, Eighmy states in his email that the university is currently in the process of making changes to policies and procedures.

“Over the next few months, our Office of Student Affairs and Office of Legal Affairs will work to formally incorporate the new law into our policies and procedures,” Eighmy said. “By March 2020, we anticipate finalizing appropriate revisions to our policy on Peaceful Public Assembly as the overarching free speech policy on campus.”

According to UTSA Senior Vice Provost of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, LT Robinson, information regarding free speech rights and responsibilities will be updated on the university’s civic discourse and engagement website. The Office of Student Affairs plans on using a three-pronged approach to engage with students and organizations.

“We will take a three-pronged approach including (1) written, email and social media messaging, (2) discussion and consultation for organizations and (3) awareness videos and on-campus training sessions. We will advertise discussion opportunities and updates through social media and email,” Robinson said.

For more information, visit the civic discourse and engagement website, utsa.edu/president/campusandcommunity/cde/index.html, or reach out to dos@utsa.edu to get involved or to contribute ideas.

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