U.Va. releases new speech regulations for ‘unaffiliated persons’

Groups not affiliated with U.Va. will be required to reserve space for ‘expressive activity’

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On May 4, the University released changes to its rules for speakers on Grounds.

Lauren Hornsby | Cavalier Daily

The University released changes Friday afternoon to its rules for speakers on Grounds, mandating “unaffiliated persons” — anyone not currently employed or enrolled at the University — make reservations for one of nine specific locations before engaging in “public speaking” or the distribution of literature on University property. University alumni are included as unaffiliated persons.

The reservation must be made at least a week in advance of the planned gathering and cannot exceed one two-hour block for each speaker or group per week. Additionally, unaffiliated groups gathering under the new policy are barred from carrying weapons, disrupting University operations and blocking pedestrian or vehicle traffic. 

The nine locations designated for gathering of unaffiliated groups include the McIntire Amphitheatre and Newcomb Plaza. Each location has a maximum number of people who may gather there, varying between 25 and 50.

According to a post in UVAToday, the policy was made in consultation with the University Counsel’s Office, experts within the School of Law and the Deans Working Group, a group of University deans and community members tasked with evaluating the University’s response to the white nationalist demonstrations of last August. The University modeled the new rules after regulations enforced by the University of Maryland. 

“The University of Virginia is committed to the Constitutional principle of free speech and to the safety and security of every member of this community,” University President Teresa Sullivan wrote in an email message to the University community.

In an email statement to The Cavalier Daily, John Whitehead — president of Charlottesville-based civil rights nonprofit The Rutherford Institute — said the new policy has the potential to expand First Amendment protections of free speech.

“The policy recognizes the right of invited speakers to be heard and forbids disruption of them,” Whitehead said. “This addresses the problems seen at other campuses where speakers with views that are controversial, or simply not ‘politically correct’, have been shouted down and unable to speak and be heard. Additionally, the policy recognizes the right of peaceful protest, even by persons unaffiliated with the University, at public events sponsored by the University.”

However, Whitehead noted parts of the new policy also may inhibit free speech on Grounds. 

“The policy also raises concerns, particularly by requiring persons unaffiliated with the University to apply days in advance in order to obtain permits to engage in First Amendment expression,” Whitehead said. “The limitations nearly eliminate the ability of unaffiliated persons to engage in expression on breaking events, and further confines the places and times when they can speak.

Previously, unaffiliated groups were allowed to gather in any outdoor space on Grounds with minor regulations on the time, place and manner of the expression. These regulations included the preservation of University property and prohibitions against disrupting University functions.

The full text of the policy can be found here.

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