Expressive Activities on Campus
Frequently Asked Questions
Background on Changes to Texas Law Regarding Expressive Activity on College Campuses
Senate Bill 18, regarding Protected Expression on Campus for all public higher education institutions in Texas, went into effect on September 1, 2019. This new law allows members of the public to engage in expressive speech on public university common outdoor areas by designating them as traditional public forums. Universities, however, can reasonably regulate the time, place and manner of such free speech activities — as long as these rules are narrowly tailored to serve a significant institutional interest and are content and viewpoint neutral.
The law requires universities to enact disciplinary sanctions for students, student organizations and faculty members who unduly interfere with the free speech activities of others. Revisions were made to UTSA’s Peaceful Public Assembly policy, Handbook of Operating Procedures and Student Code of Conduct to comply with the new law.
How does this law affect UTSA?
The law converts the university’s common outdoor areas to traditional public forums and allows anyone — not just students, faculty and staff members or invited guest speakers — to exercise free speech there, as long as their activities are lawful, don’t materially and substantially disrupt the functions of the campus and otherwise comply with applicable time, place and manner restrictions. Not all outdoor spaces on campus are part of the common outdoor areas.
While the university asks that groups share their intent to be on campus to prevent scheduling conflicts, this is not required and not always possible. UTSA may not know when individuals or groups will be on campus.
What is a common outdoor area?
The common outdoor area terminology referred to in the law describes the open outdoor spaces on campus in which the public can engage in expressive activities pursuant to the law. It does not include, for example, the outdoor campus space that is used for educational or research functions or for university events, on either a permanent or temporary basis. Contact Student Activities for additional guidance on amplified sound and specific diagrams of common outdoor areas.
If an area is deemed to be a common outdoor area, is it always available for use by anyone for expressive activities?
No, it is not always available.
A person or group does not need a reservation for the exercise of expressive activities in the common outdoor areas and spontaneous expressive activity may occur in areas that are not in use. However, once a person or group does reserve a certain space in the common outdoor areas for expressive activities, it is not available for another person or group’s use or reservation at that time. In addition, when outdoor space is being used, even on a temporary basis for university business or events, an educational or research function or it is not available for use for others’ expressive activities. All such expressive activities in common outdoor areas must not disrupt campus business or operations and must otherwise comply with applicable time, place and manner restrictions.
Will the UTSA rule revisions be stronger protections for freedom of speech?UTSA has always protected free speech, with members of the campus community and coordinated programming with guest speakers sharing a wide range of opinions and the robust exchange of ideas. The strength of these protections remains the same and stems from the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They now extend to members of the general public who are permitted to come to the common outdoor spaces of the campus without being invited by a campus organization or affiliate.
What if someone is offended by another person’s speech?
Freedom of speech means that all views have a place for expression—even those that others may find offensive, hurtful or wrong. UTSA community members who hear speech they don’t like are free to offer their own speech in response, but they must always respect the rights of all speakers to share their views.
It is also within a person’s power to avoid the speech, go around the area where the activity is happening or ignore it.
What if someone feels physically threatened?
If anyone believes they face violence or imminent bodily harm in any situation, the first action should always be to call 210-458-4911 (on-campus) and engage UTSAPD. Additional reports can be submitted through the LiveSafe App and the Behavioral Intervention Team.
Can anyone come on campus to share their beliefs?
Yes, as long as their activities are lawful and don’t disrupt the functions of the campus. All university rules regarding the time, place and manner of expressive activities—such as limits on amplified sound and prohibitions on sticks, masks and open flames—apply both to members of the UTSA community and members of the general public.
Are there rules to prevent people from disrupting classes, exams and the other daily business of the campus?
Yes. The law allows the university to regulate the time, place and manner of free speech activities—so long as these rules are narrowly tailored to serve a significant institutional interest and are content and viewpoint neutral. All previous university “time, place and manner” rules remain in place and will be extended to members of the general public who come to campus.
Can members of the general public come into academic buildings for expressive activities?
No. The new law applies only to common outdoor areas. The university buildings are for campus community members and invited guest speakers’ use.
The outside walls and surfaces of university buildings or structures, walls or surfaces connected to a university building and spaces dedicated to temporary outdoor banners or exhibits are not part of the common outdoor areas, therefore, they are not available to the public for their use.
If I think there is a violation of Campus Expressive Activity, how can I report it?
Anyone wishing to make a grievance regarding a violation of the new law may report it via the UTSA Compliance Hotline by visiting the hotline website or calling 210-458-5365. If anyone feels physically threatened in any situation, the first action should always be to call 210-458-4911 (on-campus) or 911 (mobile) to engage UTSAPD.
What disciplinary processes are in place for those who interfere with another person’s right of free expression?
UTSA does not tolerate behavior that unlawfully interferes with another person’s exercise of free speech. Students, student organizations and faculty/staff members who unduly interfere with another person’s free speech activities will be subject to discipline under the applicable policies and procedures.
Can anyone use the campus for commercial activities, such as filming advertisements or distributing products?
Commercial activities are expressly prohibited, except as may otherwise be provided by the university’s solicitation and other applicable policies.
Who can post banners and exhibits on campus?
Student organizations, faculty and staff organizations, academic and administrative units are permitted to hang banners and display exhibits on campus through a reservation process. This expressive activity is considered part of the university’s educational mission and reserved solely for university community members. The spaces set aside for banners and exhibits are part of the university’s limited public forum that is not available to the general public.
How can people respond to expressive activity?
It is fundamental that individuals have a right to peacefully express their views and opinions, regardless of whether others may disagree with those expressions. This includes the right of an individual to oppose the views or opinions of others, so long as the individual’s conduct is not unlawful and does not materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the campus.
Freedom of speech does not give someone the right to drown out words and speech of others; the right to engage in expressive activity would mean little if the audience was able to silence anyone with whom they disagreed.
Think through your personal strategies for interactions. You may wish to consider creating physical space between you and the group, being aware of your reaction, leaving the area or reaching out for help if needed.
At what point can outside groups be removed from campus?
An outside group can be removed from the common outdoor areas on campus when it, or its expressive activities, are, or imminently threaten to be, (i) unlawful, (ii) in breach of time, place and manner restrictions or other applicable University policies/rules, or (iii) materially and substantially disruptive of university functions.