January 22, 2018

Dear Colleagues:

Beginning in early February, Colorado State University will be the venue for several speakers of varying ideologies who will give talks promoting their own organization’s message and world view. These speakers are being sponsored by different campus units including registered student organizations. Such guest speakers and student-sponsored events are a longstanding part of our campus culture, and all of these speakers have a track record of recent professional appearances on other college campuses without disruption to campus life. Still, we thought this was a good opportunity to reiterate University expectations around public events and to share some related thoughts with you.

CSU is committed to and required by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to an open exchange of ideas and dissenting points of view. At times, such expression may be deemed offensive and even run counter to our Principles of Community or other institutional values. It is important to remember that embracing free speech is a core value, and our Principles of Community declare that the university is “committed to freedom of expression, critical discourse, and the advancement of knowledge.”

Sometimes, speakers and groups (including those on the CSU Lory Student Center Plaza), may try to incite or provoke a reaction from the crowd or individuals to serve their own promotional purposes. While protecting the constitutional right of people to speak, CSU also firmly upholds the rights of our campus community to present counter-arguments and speak back through peaceful protest and other means. However, free speech is not absolute. For example, true threats of violence are not protected speech, and no one has a First Amendment right to cause another person to fear for her or his physical safety.

There are several options for faculty, staff and students who disagree with a speaker’s message:

  • Avoid the event to minimize attention for the speaker and their agenda
  • Attend the speech and express counter views during permitted open comment
  • Participate in a peaceful protest
  • Schedule an alternative speaker
  • Schedule an alternative event
  • Resist being baited into a heightened level of action or engagement by a speaker or group with whom you disagree; be aware that someone might videotape or photograph your reactions in public spaces to use on social media and elsewhere for their group’s own promotion, recruitment, and fundraising purposes.

It is important to remember that disrupting a speaker or an event is not protected by the First Amendment.  CSU has a Free Speech and Peaceful Assembly policy that is available online at http://policylibrary.colostate.edu/policy.aspx?id=696. We encourage you to review the policy which includes the following:

  • Disruptive Activity: Any act that unreasonably interferes with the rights of others to peaceably assemble or to exercise the right of free speech, disrupts the normal functioning of the University, damages property, or endangers health or safety is specifically prohibited.
  • Reasonable Access: The University is required by law to provide and maintain reasonable access to, and exit from, any office, classroom, laboratory, or building. This access must not be obstructed at any time.
  • Symbolic Protest: Displaying a sign, gesturing, wearing symbolic clothing, or otherwise protesting silently is permissible unless it is a disruptive activity or impedes access to facilities. In addition, such acts should not block the audience’s view or prevent the audience from being able to pay attention to a lawful assembly and/or an official University event.

Additionally, CSU began a free First Amendment Conversation Series for faculty and staff in December and the series will continue this semester. We encourage you to attend. The series is designed to provide resources, information, and best practices for faculty and staff as they navigate issues and questions around the First Amendment and free speech on campus and in the classroom. Panelists at each session include Jason Johnson and Jannine Mohr with the Office of General Counsel; Tom Milligan, Vice President for External Relations; and Ria Vigil, Director of Diversity Education and Training with the Office of the Vice President for Diversity. Here is the link for registration: First Amendment Conversation Series.

Finally, we suggest that you talk with your teaching assistants about how to handle discussions that might emerge in the classroom around free speech, diversity of thought, and outside speakers on campus. Should you need guidance and pedagogical resources for doing so, please contact Kelly Long, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs, and Ria Vigil, Director of Diversity Education and Training with the Office of the Vice President for Diversity. We ask you to be cognizant of any potential impact for your TAs and help them develop strategies to navigate these issues with their students. Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact us for assistance.

Sincerely,

Rick Miranda
Provost and Executive Vice President

Tim Gallagher
Chair, Faculty Council