Dear University of Florida community,
During the Oct. 10 student forum at Emerson Alumni Hall for UF Presidential Candidate Sen. Ben Sasse, a large group of protestors entered the building, chanting loudly, banging their fists on windows, walls and furniture and making it difficult for audience members to hear Dr. Sasse’s responses. When the forum ended and Dr. Sasse left to take a break, the protestors entered the room where he had been responding to questions. As a result, a planned staff forum in that space had to be moved online and was shortened. UF employees who traveled to the forum site did not get to hear Dr. Sasse speak in person, as many had planned to do.
UF supports the First Amendment right to free speech and embraces our university as a place where people are able and encouraged to exchange differing viewpoints or express their feelings through peaceful protest. As our core value of freedom and civility states, “We are a community that affirms and embraces openness to an inclusive range of viewpoints.” With this commitment comes an obligation to protect the rights of everyone in our community to speak and to hear.
To ensure that those rights are protected at upcoming events, the university will resume enforcement of a regulation on the books for at least two decades, prohibiting protests inside campus buildings. We have not enforced this policy in recent years because in the rare cases that protesters entered buildings, they were respectful of others and their rights to speak and to hear. This policy will be enforced during the Nov. 1 UF Board of Trustees meeting at Emerson Alumni Hall, where Dr. Sasse’s candidacy will be considered. Students who violate the regulation may be subject to discipline under the Student Conduct Code.
I want to be clear that the university holds sacred the right to free speech, and I strongly encourage you to exercise it. It is a blessing that distinguishes our great country from many others around the world, and as many from those other countries will tell you, we must protect it vigorously.
Our UF core value of freedom and civility also states, “An open-minded culture is the foundation of freedom of expression and affirms our commitment to academic freedom, which is rooted in mutual respect of others.” Ours is a large university where conversation, civil discourse and dissent are all a regular and needed part of campus life. I pray that we will continue to find ways to express ourselves civilly and listen to those who disagree with us or who we find disagreeable — and ensure that all others can do the same.