Patrick Trautfield

Cal Poly administration has recently updated its policy concerning free expression on campus to ensure that both students and faculty have a thorough understanding of how and where various forms of free speech can be conducted on campus. The revised policy includes procedures and guidelines for the various types of activities that represent free expression – such as demonstrations, marches or displays.

In addition to revisions to the policy, the administration is working with Associated Students Inc. to find better ways to inform students of this policy and their rights.

“The policy does not aim to limit free expression,” executive assistant to the president Daniel Howard-Greene said. “It instead stands to enlighten students about their rights to freedom of expression and how they may exercise those rights.”

According to the Campus Administrative Policy (CAP), Cal Poly considers freedom of expression “a cornerstone of a democratic society and essential to the educational process.” The policy also states, “universities have a special obligation not only to tolerate but also to encourage and support the free expression of ideas, values and opinions, even where they may be unpopular or controversial.” This policy applies to students, faculty and employees.

“What many students may not know is that Cal Poly and almost every university in the nation is considered a free expression zone, in its entirety,” vice president of student affairs Cornel Morton said.

What this means for students is that debate, the dissemination of ideas, or even impromptu speeches or rallies on campus are allowed, encouraged and supported by the Cal Poly administration. In addition, hosting sponsored events or bringing speakers not affiliated with the university are allowed under the freedom of expression policy.

“However, that does not mean that students or faculty can host a speech or rally on campus without general limitations,” Morton said. “Though we encourage students and faculty to express themselves freely, depending on the time, manner and place, there are certain restrictions.”

Specifically, the revised policy expressly outlines the limitations of time, manner and place set upon freedom of expression on campus. In essence, these limitations have been put into place to ensure that freedom of expression does not interfere with the orderly conduct of business of the university or disrupt the campus learning environment, Howard-Greene said.

According to the policy, time guidelines refer to when indoor and outdoor activities can be conducted and whether or not university scheduling protocols must be followed.

For instance, the policy states that indoor events or activities are not assigned fixed limits as to time of day or day of the week, but require scheduling with the university.

However, outdoor events and activities are allowable Monday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to midnight without scheduling (though it is always encouraged by administration).

In short, this means that students and faculty have the right to conduct an impromptu speech, event, or activity (like a faculty dunk-tank on Dexter Lawn) without informing or scheduling the event with one of the university’s events scheduling offices.

The revised policy, however, limits the time in which events conducted outdoors using “amplified sound” can be coordinated, and students must absolutely schedule the event first.

“One of the key points of the revised policy was to differentiate the guidelines for outdoor activities that use or don’t use amplified sound,” Morton said.

The difference was established to ensure that the business of the university as well as education are not disrupted by impromptu events that have the potential to become distracting when amplified sound is utilized, Morton said.

Time also corresponds with the limitations for space on campus.

For instance, the policy has outlined several areas on campus that are recognized as places where students and groups assemble to exercise the right to free expression. These places, termed “university commons,” include but are not limited to the University Union Plaza, Dexter Lawn and Theatre Lawn.

Though the policy recognizes that students and faculty may express themselves freely in these areas without necessarily having to schedule use of the space in advance, it is possible for groups in or outside of campus to schedule an event in the university commons.

For the sake of fairness and lack of bias, anyone is permitted to schedule an event in the UU, yet if another group wishes to use the same university common as another group, priority is given to the reserved group, Howard-Greene said.

As for the guidelines that discuss the manner of freedom of expression, the policy delves into several specific types, including commercial and non-commercial, among others that fall into the realm of free expression.

With the policy revisions complete, the administration is now in the process of working with ASI to improve the ways in which students are informed of their rights to free expression on campus.

One of the ways this has been improved is with the addition of the UU Epicenter as a place to schedule events and activities as well as a resource to learn about freedom of expression on campus (as opposed to solely the University Scheduling Office).

In addition, Morton said that there are plans this fall to make a handbook of student rights (an abridged version, most likely) that would be distributed in the dormitories or made available through ASI.

For more information about the updated freedom of expression policy, visit the campus administrative policy Web page at

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