SB18 - Campus Free Speech
When Senate Bill 18 (SB18) passed during the 2019 legislative session it ushered in a new era of changes to free speech and assembly on the campuses of The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). Before then, The University of Texas System’s Regents’ Rules made every UT campus a limited public forum. This meant that the only members of the university community, students, faculty and staff, were entitled to protected speech and assembly on the campuses. When SB18 became effective on September 1, 2019, one of its biggest changes was opening the “common outdoor areas” of all Texas public colleges and universities to the general public for constitutionally protected expressive activities. SB18 does emphasize that the expressive activity on campuses cannot “materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the institution” and must comply with any reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.
The implementation of SB18 on the UTSA campuses sets up two distinct “spaces” for expressive activities, “outdoor common areas” and the rest of the spaces on campus. UTSA defines a “common outdoor areas” as, outdoor space that is not used for dedicated University business or an event, an educational function, or a research function on either a permanent or temporary basis. It does not include the outside surfaces of a University building, surfaces associated with or connected to a University building, a University structure, spaces dedicated to temporary outdoor banners, spaces dedicated to temporary outdoor exhibits, or any other space within the University’s limited public forum.
This means the general public and the university community are now both entitled to free speech and assembly in all UTSA “common outdoor areas.” The rest of the spaces on the UTSA Campus like the exterior surfaces and interiors of the buildings, remain a limited public forum for the university community only.
UTSA has already seen the effect of the new law with several non-university groups coming to campus to exercise free speech. This trend is expected to increase as knowledge of the SB18 changes spreads through the general public.
The UTSA community needs to be prepared for this increase and understand that SB18 also requires universities to ensure they have adequate policies in effect that protect everyone’s rights to expressive activities. The policies must include disciplinary procedures and sanctions for university community members who unduly interfere with those activities. UTSA has updated its policies to ensure compliance with these requirements and has included the necessary procedures to address complaints of undue interference with expressive activities made against UTSA faculty, staff, students or student organizations. Additionally, anyone who believes their expressive activities has been unduly interfered with may file a report on the university compliance and ethics hotline by visiting www.reportlineweb.com/UTSA or calling 1 (877) 270-5051. These updates will be included in the newest version of UTSA’s Handbook of Operating Procedures 9.37 once it receives the SB18 required approval from The University of Texas System’s Regents at their next meeting in early May.