January 23, 2018

Dear Colleagues:

We are pleased to announce the launch of a new resource for the Colorado State University community – a website focused on the First Amendment and free speech in higher education that offers resources and information for those navigating these complex issues here at CSU. The new site is live today at firstamendment.colostate.edu/

This information is particularly timely as, beginning in early February, Colorado State 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, this provides a good opportunity to reiterate University expectations around public events and to share some related thoughts with you.

CSU, as a public university, 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.”

As outlined on the website, 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 peaceful means.

The website also highlights 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.

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. This policy describes how the rights to free speech and peaceful assembly are afforded and protected by the University. We encourage the campus community to review the policy, which includes the following about disruptive activity, access, and symbolic protests:

  • 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.

To provide some deeper context and information around these policies and laws, CSU began a free First Amendment Conversation Series for faculty and staff in December, and the series will continue this semester. Information about that series and how to register for upcoming sessions is featured on the new website. A similar opportunity for learning and discussion for CSU students will also be upcoming later this spring.

This website is designed, above all, to assist each of us in doing what a University does best: learning and educating. The hope is that this creates opportunity for engagement and conversation with students and colleagues about the challenges and responsibilities of exercising and protecting First Amendment rights that are fundamental to all we do in higher education.

Sincerely,

Rick Miranda, Provost and Executive Vice President

Blanche Hughes, Vice President for Student Affairs