As a world-class research institution, the University of Florida (“UF”) fosters an environment where divergent ideas, opinions and philosophies, new and old, can be rigorously discussed and critically evaluated in the academic environment. At the same time, as a public institution, UF must provide First Amendment protections to its students, employees and other members of the community. UF’s commitment to these protections, however, runs deeper than simply a legal requirement. We believe at our core that the academic excellence and inclusiveness values we strive for could not be achieved unless we fully adhere to these First Amendment principles. The purpose of this statement is to explain what UF’s commitment entails, as well as our rights and responsibilities under these principles.
To achieve our goal of independent inquiry and vigorous academic deliberation, UF will not stifle the dissemination of any idea, even if some members of our community find it wrong-headed, offensive or hateful. Rather, UF will ensure that individuals expressing such ideas are able to do so free from bullying, violence, threat of violence or any other type of disruptive behavior.
This does not mean, however, that UF believes such ideas should go unchallenged. In fact, UF encourages members of its community to analytically and respectfully challenge contrary ideas so long as such challenges are conducted in a civil manner that does not stifle the open expression of the opposing ideas. Thus, such challenges must not interfere with speakers’ ability to speak or with their audience’s ability to hear the speakers.
Developing the intellectual skills necessary to respectfully and responsibly analyze, discuss and challenge the merits of contradicting (or even offensive) opinions and ideas, through counter arguments and civil discourse, is a key element of both personal and scholarly growth. Teaching such skills, in turn, is a crucial component of UF’s academic mission.
The preceding information is not meant to suggest that there are no limits on the expression of one’s ideas. First, UF will restrict any speech that violates the law including, but not limited to, genuine threats of violence or harm and statements designed to incite others to engage in imminent unlawful conduct. Second, in order to ensure that the successful functioning of UF is not disrupted or impeded, UF imposes reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on speech and expression. For example, UF typically prohibits electronically amplified instruments in academic areas in order to ensure classes are not disrupted. Such restrictions, set forth in UF’s regulations and policies, are narrowly-drawn and content-neutral; they are designed to preserve campus order and security, while also ensuring that all members of the UF community have an equal ability to express their ideas and opinions.
Finally, in accordance with First Amendment principles and the State of Florida’s Campus Free Expression Act, (Florida Statutes section 1004.097), UF does not restrict free expression rights to specific areas of campus, often referred to as “free speech zones.” Rather, UF considers outdoor areas of campus (accessible areas of campus where members of our community are commonly allowed, including, but not limited to, grassy areas, walkways or other common areas) as traditional public forums. In those areas, any person can engage in spontaneous or contemporaneous expressive activity so long as the person’s conduct remains lawful, does not disrupt the functioning of UF, and does not infringe upon or obstruct any other person’s rights to engage in their own expressive activities.
Documents influencing the creation of this Freedom of Expression Statement include the following: Free Speech on Campus, Chemerinsky and Gillman (2017); Texas A&M University, Free Speech and the Right to Associate (2018); Purdue University, Commitment to Freedom of Expression; and UC Davis, Chapter 400, Campus Climate, Section 01, Freedom of Expression (2018).