Office of the
Chancellor

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UMKC Guiding Principles for Free Expression

The University of Missouri-Kansas City is committed to being a model of respectful interaction and fostering a culture of equity and inclusion in the peaceful pursuit of our mission of discovery, learning and engagement. The core of the UMKC experience is to offer people the opportunity to explore an array of values, ideas and perspectives; to help them expand their appreciation for people and cultures beyond the familiar; and to help us all to better understand, and appreciate, the diverse world in which we live.

Thus, UMKC has established these Guiding Principles for Free Expression to provide advice to University offices and officials responsible for implementing UM System Collected Rules and Regulations Chapter 110: Use of Facilities and Equipment and other policies relating to free expression at UMKC, and for evaluating proposed or actual behaviors that occur in connection with events or activities within the scope of these policies.

These Principles are also intended to assist members of the University community – students, faculty, and staff – in understanding legal principles relevant to the exercise of the rights of free expression, free speech, assembly, and protest on the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

This guidance does not constitute, in and of itself, rules or regulations of the University.

Speaker’s Right to Communicate

A speaker is entitled to communicate the speaker’s message to an audience during the time allotted for the message, and the audience is entitled to hear the message and see the speaker during that time. A dissenter or protester must not substantially interfere with a speaker’s ability to communicate or with an audience’s ability to see and hear the speaker.

In a closed meeting, dissent or protest by non-attendees is typically limited to activity outside the meeting that does not impede access to the meeting or substantially interfere with the communications inside.

  • A closed meeting is generally understood to be a meeting at which the sponsoring organization limits the attendance to the membership in the organization or to invited or designated individuals or groups (including members of the press), and from which members of the University community and general public not related to the sponsoring organization or to the meeting are excluded.  To the extent that a closed meeting is advertised to those who are not invited to attend, there should be clear disclosure that the meeting is closed.

When a meeting is open, limitations on dissent or protest generally depend on whether the dissent or protest occurs inside or outside the meeting and on whether the dissent or protest occurs before, during, or after the meeting.

  • A meeting should be considered open even though the sponsoring organization limits the audience to members of the University community or to portions thereof (e.g., graduate students) unless the meeting has the characteristics of the closed meeting described above.
  • When an open meeting is intended, the sponsoring organization typically provides timely notice that the meeting is open and typically makes at least a majority of the available seats available to the University community, a portion thereof, or the general public.

Protest and Dissent

The right to dissent and protest complements the right to speak, but circumstances exist where these rights conflict.

The University has a responsibility to ensure that speakers can be heard along with a corollary responsibility not to chill counter-speech, dissent, and protest in the interest of preventing serious disruption. (Most protest activities are meant to disturb and are disruptive to some extent. The adjective “serious” conveys that the conduct in question rises to a level that it substantially and materially interferes the free speech rights of others.)

The University will be mindful of steps it can take to protect both speakers and those who wish to engage in speech, dissent, or protest opposed to such speakers:

  • To prevent serious disruption when it is anticipated, an organization hosting an open meeting can work closely with University officials to devise the time, place, and arrangements for admitting the audience.
  • When efforts to impede or prevent dissent or protest themselves rise to a seriously disruptive level, the University will seek to identify those who commit such acts and to take appropriate actions as set forth in University rules and regulations.
  • When serious disruption occurs, the University should seek to identify disrupters and to take appropriate action as set forth in University rules and regulations.
  • Where serious disruption is anticipated, the University’s goal is to make effective arrangements to protect the speaker and the right of the audience to hear the speech.
  • When protected dissent and protest are substantially impeded or inappropriately prevented, the University’s goal is to create and enforce effective arrangements to protect the right to dissent and protest.
  • University officials and others can meet in advance with protesting groups, making clear the University’s obligations to free expression and indicating forms of dissent that do not interfere with speech.

Vocal Response/Noise

Responding vocally to a speaker, spontaneously and temporarily, is generally acceptable, especially if reaction against the speaker is similar in kind and degree to reaction in their favor. 

  • Asking critical questions of the speaker during an event formatted to include a question-and-answer session is acceptable.
  • Chanting, persistent heckling, making other sustained or repeated noise in a manner that makes it difficult or impossible to hear what the speaker is saying, or substantially interfering with the speaker’s communication with the audience is not acceptable, either inside or outside the meeting.

Silent or Symbolic Protest

Displaying a sign, wearing significant or symbolic clothing, gesturing, standing, kneeling, or otherwise protesting noiselessly is generally acceptable unless the protest interferes with the audience’s view or prevents the audience from paying attention to the speaker. Use of signs, prolonged standing, or other activity likely to block the view of anyone in the audience should be confined to the back of the room.

Picketing and Distributing Literature

Picketing in an orderly way or distributing literature outside a meeting and in alignment with these Guidelines is generally acceptable unless it impedes access to the meeting. Distributing literature inside an open meeting is generally acceptable before the meeting is called to order and after the meeting is adjourned.

All outdoor spaces on campus, including streets, sidewalks, and open areas, are treated as public forums for purposes of free speech activities. However, UMKC may place reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on speech and expression in public forums in preserving significant interests of the University, so long as these restrictions are content- and viewpoint-neutral and provide for ample alternative means of expression.

  • Any person who engages in noncommercial expressive activity on campus will be allowed to do so freely, unless and until the conduct becomes unlawful or materially or substantially disrupts the functions of the University.
  • If marchers or protesters stay on sidewalks and obey traffic and pedestrian signals, their activity is constitutionally protected. Marchers or protesters may be required to allow enough space on the sidewalk for normal pedestrian traffic and may not intentionally obstruct or detain other pedestrians. Also, marchers or protesters may not occupy sidewalks in ways that block entrances to buildings.
  • The distribution of leaflets and other literature by protesters is permitted on public sidewalks. Protesters may approach pedestrians with these materials but may not physically or maliciously detain them.
  • Picketing on public sidewalks is permissible. Picketing must occur in a non-disruptive fashion so that pedestrians can pass by and entrances to buildings are not blocked.

Respecting the Right to Dissent

Audiences, event organizers, and speakers have a responsibility to respect the right to dissent and protest. An individual who substantially interferes with lawful dissent or protest is engaging in behavior as unacceptable as a dissenter or protester who violates the rights of a speaker or an audience.

Photography

Photography is allowed in traditional public forums or other public spaces. In other words, when a person is in a public space, the person has a right to photograph anything that is in plain view. Members of the press have this same right to the same extent (neither more nor less) as any other person. Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view a person’s photographs or video, or digital records thereof, without a warrant, and they may not delete a person’s photographs or video under any circumstances. Police officers may legitimately order citizens (whether a member of the public or a member of the press) to cease activities that are actually interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations.

Counter-Programming/Demonstrators

Counter-demonstrators also have a right to dissent and protest. This includes a right to be present at a demonstration and to voice displeasure with demonstrators. Counter-demonstrators should not be allowed to disrupt the event they are protesting. University officials and the UMKC Police Department are permitted to take steps to keep two or more antagonistic groups separated from each other, but such groups should be allowed to be within the general vicinity of each other if this can be accomplished without compromising the health or safety of participants or observers.

Civil Disobedience

Legal protest and dissent are different from civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is public, non-violent, and conscientious violation of law undertaken for the purpose of bringing about a change in law, government policies, or society. In the history of the United States, civil disobedience has helped bring about many highly important, desirable changes in law and society. Although deliberate acts that violate the laws, rules, and policies applicable to free expression may constitute civil disobedience, those who commit such civil disobedience should be willing to and must expect to suffer the disciplinary and remedial consequences of their actions as provided by law, rule, or policy.

Threat/Use of Violence

Using or making a genuine, “true threat” to use force or violence is never permitted. Thus, behaviors such as defacing a sign, assaulting or threatening to assault a speaker, or assaulting or threatening to assault a member of the audience are not tolerated by UMKC. These kinds of behaviors are serious matters and may violate state or federal law, or both, as well as University policies against such behavior.

 

Related Resources

Student Handbook

Intellectual Pluralism