Board of Regents Policy Manual

Official Policies of the University System of Georgia

6.5 Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom

The rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, to the U.S. Constitution including the right to freedom of speech, the right to the free exercise of religion, and the right peaceably to assemble peaceably are of the utmost importance, and the University System of Georgia (USG) is committed to protecting those rights. In the context of higher education, the constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech includes both academic freedom and freedom of expression. USG and all of its institutions shall vigorously protect those freedoms.

USG and its institutions shall foster an environment where all members of the USG community are free to share ideas and opinions, even those that some may find offensive. Ideas and opinions should be openly and freely debated and discussed, both inside and outside of the classroom, without fear of suppression or reprisal. The USG community should promote intellectual debates, not close them off, and must uphold the values of civility and mutual respect while doing so.

While narrow restrictions to freedom of speech will apply for expression that violates the law or USG or institutional policies, freedom of expression protections are broad. Any necessary limitations will be enforced by USG or institutional administration. Individual members of the USG community shall not attempt to prevent or otherwise interfere with the free expression of others, no matter how objectionable they may find the expressed ideas or opinions.

Similarly, USG is strongly committed to protecting the academic freedom rights of faculty and students. Along with those rights comes an individual responsibility to fulfill obligations in the classroom, in research, and as public citizens.

6.5.1 Academic Freedom

As a public system of higher education, USG is committed to protecting the academic freedom rights of faculty and students in teaching, research, publishing, and other academic activities. All institutions within USG must vigorously promote the open exchange of ideas and protect academic freedom on their campuses.

USG values diversity of intellectual thought and expression for all. While faculty and students must be encouraged to exercise their rights to academic freedom, they must also understand that, along with those rights comes the responsibility to respect the individuality and beliefs of all. Members of the USG community should always seek to foster and defend intellectual honesty, freedom of inquiry, and instruction on and off campus.

Academic freedom is a bedrock of higher education, but it is not unlimited. Faculty academic freedom extends only to classroom material and discussions, research, publications, and other academic activities that are germane to the subject matter being taught, researched, written about, or presented. Faculty members must be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matters that have no relation to their subject.

Students should be provided an environment conducive to learning, be free from faculty or institutional coercion to make personal political or social choices, and be evaluated based on their academic performance, not factors that are irrelevant to that performance such as their personal beliefs. Similarly, faculty and staff have the right to be unburdened by irrelevant factors such as ideological tests, affirmations, and oaths, and should instead be hired and evaluated based on relevant factors such as their achievement and the success of students.

Finally, faculty hold a special position in the community that carries both privileges and obligations. Because faculty are scholars and educators, the public may judge their profession and their institutions by their utterances. Therefore, faculty should always strive to be accurate, exercise appropriate restraint, show respect for the opinions of others, and make every effort when they are expressing their personal opinions to indicate that they are speaking for themselves as private citizens rather than on behalf of their institutions.

This commitment to protecting the academic freedom rights of all faculty and students, as well as ensuring that all faculty and students respect the academic freedom rights of others, is crucial to USG’s mission of providing the best educational opportunities to all Georgians.

6.5.2 Institution Freedom of Expression Policies

As public institutions of higher education, USG institutions must promote free expression and academic freedom on their campuses. To that end, the unrestricted outdoor areas of institutions are deemed public forums for the campus community of each institution. For purposes of this policy, the campus community means students, faculty, staff, and their invited guests. While institutions may need to enact policies to promote campus safety, to ensure the proper functioning of the academic environment and institution activities, or to further other important institution objectives, those policies should not unduly burden the free expression rights of students, faculty, and staff.

Institutions may maintain and enforce reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions narrowly tailored to serve a significant institutional interest. Such restrictions must employ clear, published, content- and viewpoint-neutral criteria, and provide for ample alternative means of expression. Finally, any such restrictions may include reservation requirements, if needed, but must also allow for members of the campus community to spontaneously and contemporaneously assemble or distribute literature.

Institutions can designate accessible, high-traffic locations on campus as public forum areas for individuals or groups who are not members of the campus community and can require these individuals or groups to comply with reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions, including reservation requirements. Institutions may not consider the content or viewpoint of expression when requiring or assigning use of public forum areas.

USG institutions must place their student free expression policies and procedures in the student handbook and make the same publicly available online. These policies and procedures must also be incorporated into student orientation programs. Finally, institutions must develop materials, programs, and procedures to ensure that faculty and staff understand the institutional policies and duties regarding free expression on campus.

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