College campuses across the country are struggling with disagreements about how to allow freedom of expression on campus while maintaining safety for the speakers and participants. As a public university and one that has faced this issue over the past year, the University of California, Davis, has made this topic a priority.
Earlier this year, UC Davis Interim Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter convened a working group composed of faculty, staff and students. He charged them with considering how the campus can ensure freedom of expression, personal safety, and security of campus facilities while promoting an environment where all members of the community feel safe, valued, respected and heard. The group established an online submission form for comments, ideas and opinions, including the option to submit anonymously. Their final recommendations were delivered to Hexter, offering a blueprint to allowing free expression while maintaining safety.
“Our obligation to uphold First Amendment freedoms is essential in our democracy and on our campus,” Hexter said. “While all expression is subject to time, place and manner restrictions, it cannot include silencing or blocking speakers, even if we disagree with what is being said. I appreciate the commitment demonstrated by the working group to gather feedback from a wide range of our campus community.”
Among the group’s recommendations, developed with input from the campus community, is a set of education events including interactive town halls and workshops; establishment and enforcement of specific disciplinary rules for those who disrupt campus events; increased coordination with the city of Davis and other law enforcement agencies in designing safety plans to ensure physical safety of participants; and creation of a standing Freedom of Expression Committee to engage the campus community in dialogue on freedom of expression issues. The group’s initial report is available online.
Kevin R. Johnson, dean of the School of Law and chairperson of the working group, added, “This is a complex issue that our society at large will continue to grapple with for some time. These findings are an important and necessary first step to address issues that arise on our campus and to ensure that the fundamental rights of each member of the community are supported. I want to thank the Working Group for its hard work and dedication to constructive dialogue in analyzing these complex issues and coming up with a constructive report and recommendations.”
Hexter has asked UC Davis campus counsel to review the recommendations to determine any changes that may be necessary to campus policy in order to implement the recommendations.