UC Davis Creates Blueprint for Freedom of Expression on Campus

Milo Yiannopoulos protests his cancellation in January

(From Press Release) – 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 can be found here.

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.


  1. Efforts to Disrupt and Silence Speech: A recurring problem on the UC Davis and other university campuses has been that some groups have sought to silence speech of those with whom they disagree. Such conduct adversely affects the First Amendment rights of speakers and those who desire to hear their speech. Many law and policy questions are raised in such situations, including the university’s obligations with respect to the rights of controversial speakers while ensuring physical safety for all.
  2. Need for Freedom of Expression Programs: The UC Davis community would gain from educational programs on the value of freedom of expression at a public university and the responsibilities of the university in providing a venue for expressive activities. The campus community specifically should be educated that the university has obligations not to censor speakers invited to the campus and that the university does not endorse the speech of all speakers brought to the campus. The Working Group discussed the ways in which the campus community might be educated about the arguments for freedom of expression at the university and what the First Amendment requires from the members of the campus community and the administration, especially in the case of highly controversial speakers.
  3. Current Lack of Disciplinary Rules: The campus lacks a clear rule for disciplining students who disrupt the speech of others on campus. There currently is little, or no, disciplining of students who disrupt the speech of others.

The Working Group acknowledges that some of the protesters at campus events are not students and are not subject to student discipline. However, criminal activity by students and community members can be the subject of police action.

  1. Infrastructure to Protect Freedom of Expression: For the vast majority of campus speakers and events, the UC Davis campus can protect the physical safety and security. However, it currently lacks the infrastructure to address the safety and security concerns raised by exceptional events such as that of Milo Yiannopoulos, a relatively rare incident for the campus (but which may recur).
  2. Need for Continuing Dialogue: A continuing dialogue between campus administrators, faculty, students, and staff on Freedom of Expression on the UC Davis campus is necessary and should continue.


  1. Freedom of Expression Educational Events: The campus should regularly hold a series of highly-publicized educational events on Freedom of Expression and the values served by Freedom of Expression on a university campus. Possible programs and steps include but are not limited to:
  • Interactive town halls and workshops, including some organized by students for students, on the values of Freedom of Expression and the obligations and responsibilities of a public university, and on the history and theory of creative political expression to provide compelling examples of other, constructive and expressive options students have to respond to controversial speakers. Protest, for example, might include silence in response to speakers with whom protesters disagree.
  • One or more series of balanced speakers on Freedom of Expression. The series could be held in large venues, classroom, and other settings. Students should be included as speakers. The series might include public debates of opposing views about freedom of expression and related issues.
  • A Campus Book Project organized around a book that educates the campus community about the values served by Freedom of Expression and the First Amendment.
  • Freedom of Expression educational programs in the campus residential halls.
  • Targeted outreach to student groups for dialogues on Freedom of Expression.
  • Placing information about freedom of expression, and possibly related material, on the UC Davis home page.
  1. Anti-Disruption Disciplinary Rule: The campus should authorize the imposition of discipline for the disruption of campus events and invited speakers. Although the determination of what constitutes disruption may be fact-specific and contextual in some cases and require the exercise of official discretion, the campus should clearly delineate disruptive behavior it deems presumptively unacceptable and provide clear notice to students engaging in such behavior that their conduct warrants a disciplinary response. Consistent with privacy protections, the enforcement of anti-disruption regulations should be publicized to the campus community.

UC Davis specifically should draft and, after a full opportunity for comment by all interested constituencies, adopt a disciplinary rule for the Student Code of Conduct governing the disruption of speakers on campus and interference with safety measures in connection with a campus event. The Working Group was in general agreement that the campus could authorize the imposition of discipline for disruption of speakers and threats to health and physical safety of other persons, tampering with safety measures put into place to ensure the safety of all at events (such as tampering with safety barricades), and otherwise interfering with the public safety plan for a campus event. After the campus adopts an anti-disruption policy, the campus should enforce it.

  1. Safety Threats: In the event of possible violence to a speaker by non-students and others at an event, the campus should work with City of Davis Police Department and, as necessary, other law enforcement agencies in formulating a plan to ensure the physical safety of the speaker and other participants in the event.
  2. Need for Further Study: The campus should consider how to best address the Freedom of Expression and public safety issues raised by the extraordinary event involving a high-profile controversial speaker who is likely to generate protest and possibly violence. The responses to such events likely will need to be tailored to the event and the specific public safety risks of the event.
  3. Standing Freedom of Expression Committee: The campus should continue to engage in dialogue about the Freedom of Expression issues on the DC Davis campus, perhaps with a continuing standing committee of students, faculty, campus administrators, staff, and community members to discuss issues that arise. As part of its charge, the committee could plan the Freedom of Expression educational events mentioned in Recommendation 1.

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  1. Keith O

    This is a good plan if the UCD administration actually have the guts to discipline the disrupting students who are responsible for shutting down free speech.  I have my doubts.

    1. David Greenwald

      The two weak point here seem to be:

      1. Enforceability – it’s one thing to have a policy, but since UCD isn’t going to arrest student protesters, it’s going to be hard to determine who did what. I think that’s a bigger problem than disciplining students.
      2. The biggest problems seem to be not students, but non-student protesters and there is little this can do about that.

      1. Keith O

        Peaceful protesting is one thing, but when the little anarchists decide to block entrance and/or destroy property it’s time to start arresting and charging those responsible.  That’s the only way they’re going to stop the leftist fascists from

      2. Eric Gelber

        I would add to the list of weak points, defining “disruption” in a manner that is not vague, over broad, or subject to an abuse of “the exercise of official discretion.”

  2. Todd Edelman

    How’s this? All participants in public events of a certain size have to show strong commitment to the First Amendment and/OR other tools for freedom of expression created by the university. (Regarding the “OR”, I’m not sure but this might allow Anarchists and others who don’t support the “state” to participate). Event organizers are required to submit a detailed application that includes the history of speakers, their manifesto, press clippings, and make an argument for how this will also make UCD commit to provide 50% of students with housing on campus — just kidding – how this will enrich the university and the lives of its students. This is reviewed by a panel that will also be tasked with researching the person or group.

    A UC campus can have its own rules for certain things that are more restrictive than those in the city, county, state etc in which it resides, but it’s not in principle outside of the community. It’s a part of it, it’s subsidized by it, and also nearly everyone present is above the age of majority.

    1. Eric Gelber

      Todd –

      Seriously? I can guarantee that your proposed policy would be found to violate the First Amendment. Perhaps you meant to apply “just kidding” to the entire paragraph rather then only to the housing reference.

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