How UT handles free speech

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In October 2016, the Young Conservatives hosted a controversial bake sale which sparked an all-day proteset. Republicans in Congress have written a 590-page bill to ammend the 1965 Higher Education Act which would include protections for conservative free speech. 

Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

According to a survey published this month by the Gallup-Knight Foundation, the number of U.S. college students who feel their campus climate inhibits freedom of speech may be on the rise.

Out of more than 3,000 U.S. college students surveyed, 61 percent agreed their campus climate prevents people from speaking freely because others may find their opinions offensive, an increase from 54 percent in a 2016 survey.

Sara Kennedy, director of strategic and executive communications, said at UT, the entire campus allows freedom of speech for faculty, staff and students, as long as it does not interfere with student learning.

“We don’t limit free speech,” Kennedy said. “Our students are free to demonstrate in any common area on campus. The only limits are about the essential functions of the University, and the primary function of our University is teaching. Teaching, research and other official functions at the University will have priority in allocating the use of space on campus.”

According to UT’s general information guide, faculty and staff of the University are free to express their views — political, religious, ideological or otherwise — and others can “choose not to listen.”

Government professor Lucas Powe Jr., who teaches a class about the First Amendment, said he believes UT is doing a fair job of allowing students to speak freely on campus.

“All ideas should be expressed on college campuses — there should be no censorship whatsoever,” Powe said. “If students and faculty can’t tolerate an idea, they don’t have to be there.”

While Saurabh Sharma, biochemistry junior and chairman-elect of Young Conservatives of Texas, said UT does not actively oppress free speech, he said there are certain rules at the University that he feels discriminate against dissident voices.

“The majority of the speakers invited by the University itself...tend to come from a non-conservative perspective,” biochemistry junior Sharma said. “That’s not oppressing anyone’s free speech, but it’s certainly amplifying a certain kind of speech over another.”

Brianna Davis, education graduate student, said although she has not felt like her right to speak freely has been deterred during her time at the University, having conversations about free speech on college campuses is important.

“The professors that I’ve had have been open to various ideas in the classroom,” Davis said. “It’s important to make space for a variety of different thoughts.”