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Students, community members react to proposed policy regulating outside speakers on Grounds

Local attorney Jeff Fogel, College Republicans express concerns over potential limits on free expression

<p>The McIntire Amphitheater is among a number of "designated locations" at the University which unaffiliated groups would be restricted to holding events at.&nbsp;</p>

The McIntire Amphitheater is among a number of "designated locations" at the University which unaffiliated groups would be restricted to holding events at. 

Six months after the white nationalist rallies of Aug. 11 and 12, the University is currently considering policy changes proposed by the Deans Working Group that would limit the ability of individuals unaffiliated with the University to gather on Grounds. Students, faculty and community members have had mixed reactions to the newly proposed regulations.

Risa Goluboff, dean of the Law School and chair of the Deans Working Group, said in an email to The Cavalier Daily that the proposed policy is modeled on freedom of expression provisions for unaffiliated groups that are currently in place at the University of Maryland. The UMD policy states that campus facilities are available primarily for programs offered by and intended for the university community.

“The Maryland policy was a good guide because it was upheld by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the same federal circuit of which Virginia is a part,” Goluboff said. “Other universities such as Virginia Commonwealth University have also adopted similar policies.”

While the UMD policy allows only one place on campus for public forum by unaffiliated individuals — the school’s ampitheater — the University’s proposed policy lists multiple “designated locations” for unaffiliated groups to organize including the McIntire Amphitheater and North Rotunda Plaza, which is the area surrounding the Jefferson state and the lower area between the sidewalk and University Avenue. Other locations include Newcomb plaza between Newcomb Hall and the Bookstore, Nameless Field, Mad Bowl, the grass triangles down the hill from Brooks Hall, Brown Residential College grass field and the Observatory Hill grass field.

“We have [a] 7-day advance reservations rather than 5 days, to prevent the weekend from affecting different speakers differently,” Goluboff said. “The Maryland policy identified one place for speaking with an adjacent spot for distributing literature: we’d like to identify more than one. One unique feature of our policy is that it expressly does not apply to speech in response to a University event or speaker. It seemed important to make that clear.”

Goluboff said that the First Amendment allows for the reasonable regulation of speech by universities. 

“First Amendment law provides that speech may be reasonably regulated according to time, place, or manner,” Goluboff said. “So, for example, a city can regulate loudspeakers and other amplified sound. Similarly, universities can designate certain times or areas for expressive activity.”

According to Goluboff, time, place and manner regulations are a common practice at many public universities and the amendment proposed by the University is modest in its scope.

“Many university policies go farther in regulating when and where students can speak in outside areas,” Goluboff said. “Our aim is more modest — ensuring that speakers from outside the university have speech opportunities while student needs and the educational mission are met.”


University President Teresa Sullivan created the Deans Working Group following the events of Aug. 11 and 12, when white nationalists marched on the Lawn and held the deadly “United the Right” rally in downtown Charlottesville the following day. The group is tasked with evaluating the University’s response to the events and proposing changes to current policy structures.

The proposed policy aims to ensure that the University is free from disruptions or protests by unaffiliated individuals on Grounds while maintaining their First Amendment right to freedom of speech on Grounds to certain designated locations. 

The policy would regulate the use of outdoor University property by unaffiliated individuals — those who are not University students, faculty or staff, including alumni. The regulations would create a list of designated spaces where such unaffiliated persons can gather, limit the number of attendees and require advanced reservation of spaces during specific hours of the work week for set lengths of time.

Goluboff said that the policy amendment is being considered in response to the Aug. 11 white nationalist march on Grounds.

“The realization after August 11 that a policy such as this one would have provided advance notice of unaffiliated speakers who planned to speak on Grounds,” Goluboff said. “Such information can enhance open discourse at the University by enabling it to plan for future events and ensure that such events occur at a time and place consistent with the University’s mission and character as a residential and educational institution.”

The proposed amendment to University policy falls under the ‘time, place, and manner’ restrictions, which the University released in 2016. Time regulations identify when individuals may express themselves, place regulations specify where individuals may express themselves and manner regulations manage the mode of individual expression.  

Under current University policy, the assembly of unaffiliated groups on Grounds is not strictly regulated. Unaffiliated groups are allowed to gather in any outdoor space on Grounds with minor regulations on the time, place and manner of the expression. These regulations include preserving the aesthetics of the University’s property, not creating safety issues and not disrupting University functions. The Supreme Court has historically ruled that governing authorities can put such reasonable limitations on the time, place and manner of individual expression.

Goluboff said the Deans Working Group is still in the process of eliciting feedback from students and faculties on the proposed policy and added that potential changes could be made to the policy as a result. The group hosted its own student feedback session earlier this month, and Goluboff also spoke at a University Democrats meeting last week to discuss the implications of the proposed policy. University Law Prof. Margaret Riley also addressed Student Council on the proposed changes at its meeting Tuesday. 

“The Deans Working Group is sharing the proposed policy with students, faculty, and staff around Grounds to get input,” Goluboff said. “It is also examining how the University can approach what happened here as a launching pad for future research, teaching, and the advancement of knowledge.”


Local attorney Jeff Fogel said that the proposed policy not only serves as an unnecessary overreaction from the University to the events of Aug.11 and 12, but also restricts freedom of expression for local community members. 

“The University is living within a community and that community is not distinct or separate from the Grounds,” Fogel said. “The notion that we are unaffiliated because we are not enrolled, working, or teaching is simply not the truth.”

“The proposal is an over-broad reaction to an incident which was in fact the fault of the University,” Fogel added. “Now the University turns around and oppresses everybody who is not considered as affiliated.” 

In talking about alternative measures to ensure safety on Grounds while protecting the rights of free expression, Fogel said that the University and the University Police Department should be more accountable to students. 

“The University is not an isolated institute on the edge of the earth,” Fogel said. “That one night was the fault of the administration and the police department was totally screwed up. I don’t think anything needs to be done if the University has paid attention and the police department has been responsible.” 

John W. Whitehead, an attorney and founder of The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties institute, said that the university campus is considered as a limited public forum. Hence, regulations may be implemented on the premise of not being discriminatory.

“I think we are in a very dangerous time concerning free speech. Any restriction needs to be reasonable and neutral,” Whitehead said. “In terms of the University’s restriction, I think it meets the standards.”

Whitehead said that the proposed policy should not infringe upon students’ rights of free speech. 

“The University can limit the freedom of speech for people off-campus but must make sure that it is not limiting students’ exercise of free speech,” Whitehead said. “Students should be taught that the way to overcome speeches you do not like is not to shut people down but to encourage more free speech and to be more tolerant. The First Amendment says that listen, we give you the freedom of speech, but you need to assemble peacefully.”

Joseph Dennie, a second-year College student and communications director for the University Democrats, said in an email to The Cavalier Daily that the proposed policy could create a safer environment on Grounds for students and raise their awareness of unaffiliated groups on Ground.

“Free speech is currently a contentious issue on campuses across the country, but we do not consider this policy to be too restrictive,” Dennie said. “The University is not regulating what unaffiliated groups are saying. They simply are making sure they know who these groups are, and ensuring that they are not disrupting University business.”

Dennie said that while members of the University Democrats were initially concerned about the proposed policy, would not affect the guest speakers and politicians who are invited to the University by student groups. 

“Dean Goloboff made clear to us that these individuals would not be subject to the new regulations since they would be the guests of our affiliated organization,” Dennie said.

In contrast to Dennie, Adam Kimelman — a third-year College student and Chair of the College Republicans — said in an email to The Cavalier Daily that the proposed amendment could potentially compromise the rights of free expression on Grounds. 

“Regulating where unaffiliated individuals can gather in only a few zones and specific times is restricting the First Amendment rights to an unnecessary point,” Kimelman said. “While it may be useful in keeping individuals off of grounds who we don't want here, we believe that there are more effective policies that won't have the same impact on individuals.”

No representatives of the University of Maryland responded to requests for comment by press time.