Frequently Asked Questions
Legal Requirements and Common Outdoor Areas
What does the law mean for UTSA?
The law provides that the university’s common outdoor areas are traditional public forums and allows anyone—not just students, faculty members or invited guests—to exercise free speech there, if their activities are lawful, abide by any applicable time, place and manner restrictions, and do not disrupt the functions of the campus. Not all outdoor spaces on campus are common outdoor areas. The university has defined common outdoor areas in its Handbook of Operating Procedures Policy (HOP) 9.37.
What is a common outdoor area?
“Common Outdoor Area” means 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. Common Outdoor Areas are designated by state law as traditional public forums.
What are some of UTSA's common outdoor areas?
There are many areas on campus that are considered common outdoor areas. Some specific examples of UTSA’s common outdoor areas are the UTSA Oval, Central Plaza, Paseo Principal, Paseo Del Sur, Paseo Del Norte, Student Union Fiesta Dancers Patio, SU Paseo, HEB Student Union Lawn and the Convocation Center North Plaza. The Bill Miller Plaza at the Downtown Campus is generally considered a common outdoor area.
Are there outdoor spaces that are not considered common outdoor areas?
Yes. Generally speaking, those areas that are closely connected to university buildings and used by members of the university community as an extension of those buildings are not considered a common outdoor area. Although not a complete list, some examples of outdoor areas that are not common outdoor areas are:
Main Campus: the courtyard and patio areas of the Art Building, Bioscience Building, Biotechnology Sciences & Engineering, Guadalupe Hall, Graduate School and Research Building, Peter T. Flawn Building Portico East, Business Building, and Bosque Building are not considered common outdoor areas open to the general public but are generally open to members of the UTSA community.
Downtown Campuses: the Sculpture Patio and South Lawn at the San Pedro I building; the patios, portals, and porticos of the Frio and Buena Vista buildings; the McNutt, Zilker, and Frost gardens and courtyards; and the verandas and patios at the Institute of Texan Cultures are not considered common outdoor areas that are open to the general public but are generally open to members of the UTSA community.
If an area is a common outdoor area, is it always available for use by anyone for expressive activities?
A person or group does not need a reservation for the exercise of expressive activities in the common outdoor areas, as defined in HOP 9.37, and spontaneous expressive activity may occur in such areas that are not in use. However, if a person or group reserves a certain space in a common outdoor area for expressive activities, or it is being used for university activities or business, it is not available for another person or group’s use or reservation at that time. In addition, when a common outdoor area is being used for university business or events (an educational or research function in accordance with university policy), it is not available for use for others’ expressive activities. For more information, or to determine if a space is reserved or already in use, please contact Events Management at (210) 458-4155 or EMCSevents@utsa.edu.
Can anyone come onto the common outdoor areas of campus to share their beliefs?
Yes, if their activities are lawful and do not 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 of signs on sticks and open flames—apply both to members of the UTSA community and members of the general public. Members of the general public can only engage in expressive activities in the university’s common outdoor areas, and otherwise in accordance with applicable UTSA policies and rules.
Can members of the general public come into academic buildings for expressive activities?
No. University buildings are for campus community members and invited guests’ use, as determined by UTSA. Under the law and university policy, buildings are not considered a common outdoor area.
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 and are thus not available to the general public for their use.
If I think there is a violation of state law or university rules on expressive activities, how can I report it?
Anyone wishing to file a complaint for a violation state law or university policy may report it through the university’s Compliance Hotline form or by calling (210) 458-5365. If anyone feels physically threatened in any situation, the first action should always be to call the UTSA Police Department at (210) 458-4911.
Time, Place and Manner Considerations
What are some of the "time, place and manner" rules in place on campus?
Some of the rules include:
- Advance permission is required to use amplified sound on campus at any time.
- Amplified sound can only be used by university entities such as departments or sponsored student organizations at designated times and in designated areas.
- Permitted expressive activity does not allow the use of sticks or batons, including metal, plastic or wood poles affixed to signs.
- Open flames are prohibited on campus.
- Community members and visitors cannot obscure their faces with masks.
- Community members and visitors must not interfere with vehicular and pedestrian traffic on campus.
- The general public is not permitted to hang signs or banners, or chalk, paint or otherwise write messages, on campus buildings, landscaping, hardscape or trees. Campus community members may apply through Student Activities for use of a temporary banner space in the university’s limited public forum.
- Commercial solicitation is prohibited.
The full list of “time, place and manner” rules can be found in HOP 9.37.
What is considered disruption?
Any speech, expression or assembly conducted in a way that disrupts or interferes with university functions, authorized activities, pedestrian and vehicular traffic, and other expressive activities outlined in HOP 9.37.
How do I express myself at a meeting or event without disruption?
There are several methods. Some include:
- Holding cards which indicate disagreement (or agreement) with points and views.
- Staging a coordinated, quiet walk-out of a program or event.
- Turning one's back on the speaker.
Holding signs which are not affixed to sticks or poles, and do not obstruct the view of others (stand/sit in the back of room or space).
Are there rules to prevent people from disrupting classes, exams, and the other daily business of the campus?
Yes. In keeping with the U.S. Constitution, state law and university policy, the university is allowed to regulate the time, place and manner of free speech activities—so long as these rules are content-neutral and applied regardless of the speaker’s viewpoint. All university “time, place and manner” rules that apply to members of the university community also apply to members of the general public who come to campus. Expressive activities may not disrupt classes, exams or other daily business of the campus. Members of the university community who engage in activities that are disruptive may be subject to discipline in accordance with university policies. Members of the general public who are disruptive may be subject to law enforcement action.
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 the UTSA Police Department at (210) 458-4911.
UTSA recognizes that some may find constitutionally-protected speech offensive, hurtful or make them feel unsafe. If you feel this way, UTSA provides many resources to help.
What if someone is offended by another's speech?
Freedom of speech means that all constitutionally-protected views have a place for expression—even those others may find offensive, hurtful or wrong. University community members who hear words they do not like are free to offer their own words in response, but they must always respect the rights of all speakers to share their views.
What is considered amplified sound?
Sound volume that is increased by electric, electronic, mechanical or motor-powered means. This includes but is not limited to, bullhorns, speakers, laptops, cell phones, microphones and tablets.
Who needs a reservation or advanced permission to use amplified sound in a common outdoor area?
Everyone (university/non-university organizations, individuals and entities) needs advanced permission. Permission is given through the Dean of Students or designee.
Where am I allowed to use amplified sound or music?
Amplified sound is permitted with advance approval in common outdoor areas. Amplified music is prohibited in the Central Plaza, Sombrilla and MH Porticos or in close proximity to academic buildings. The Dean of Students or their designee may designate additional areas, or make exceptions, for amplified sound.
The use of amplified sound or music must not disrupt or interfere with the general function of the university, flow of pedestrian or vehicular traffic on a UTSA campus, or the use of another person’s or organization’s use of amplified sound.
Furthermore, as to common outdoor areas, the Dean of Students or their designee may prescribe content-neutral rules concerning scheduling, sound levels, the location of speakers and direction of sound, and other rules to facilitate the use of amplified sound, to mediate any conflict with university functions and other nearby activities, and to manage the impact on the general function of the university, flow of pedestrian or vehicular traffic, or the use of another person’s or organization’s use of amplified sound.
What happens if there another event that is using amplified sound in the same area as mine and during the same time period?
The Dean of Students or their designee will work with the groups to reschedule one or more of the coinciding events or host the events in different spaces of the same campus. If a resolution cannot be reached, the Dean of Students may refuse to schedule simultaneous events in those areas, but may consider allowing the group that arrived first to maintain priority.
What about using amplified sound indoors?
Amplified sound sufficient to be heard throughout the room may be used in any room in any building, but the Dean of Students or their designee may limit or prohibit sound that would be disruptive outside the room. If you plan to use amplified sound indoors, please contact Events Management at EMCSevents@utsa.edu to make your reservation and have your questions answered about amplified sound and avoiding disruptions.
What is Allowed
If someone is holding an event on campus, can a member of the university community or the general public protest it?
Yes. A part of free speech and expression is the right to engage in peaceful, nonviolent protest. The university expects all who engage in protest to do so peacefully and safely, and in accordance with any applicable university policies and rules.
Can people who oppose a speaker's message use their own freedom of speech to shout down that speaker's message?
No. Freedom of speech does not give you permission to silence the speech of others by shouting, heckling or otherwise disrupting a speech to the point that the speaker cannot continue or that the audience can no longer listen. Intentionally disrupting a speaker may result in disciplinary sanctions or even criminal charges against the disruptive person.
Can the university cancel an event if the campus community disagrees with the speaker's views?
No, the university cannot cancel an event based on the viewpoint of the speaker.
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, faculty members and staff members who interfere with another person’s free speech activities are subject to discipline. Members of the public who impede another’s free speech may be subject to criminal trespass charges, arrest or other lawful measures.
Who can post banners and exhibits on campus?
Student organizations, faculty/staff organizations and 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 “temporary banner space” and “temporary exhibit space” are part of the university’s limited public forum and not available for use by individuals or the general public.