Freedom of Speech, Protests and Political Activity
Policy number: 9.4
Policy section: Police & Public Safety
Revised Date: February 26, 2024
Definitions of capitalized terms are set forth in Appendix A.
2. Policy Statement
- The University is an educational institution dedicated to the specific purpose of furthering its teaching, research, and service missions. Access to the campus and its buildings and other improvements is limited to those persons with the specific purpose of furthering the institution’s missions. Therefore, all persons on University property must abide by all applicable policies and procedures of the University.
- The purpose of this policy is to preserve, in fact and appearance, the University’s non-partisan and independent status, while ensuring compliance with legal restrictions and prohibitions that the University must follow. While the University seeks to promote engagement and discourse within the campus and the community, there are restrictions, and strict prohibitions, on how the University and those associated with the University may do so. Specifically, the University’s tax-exempt status prohibits it from participating in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office. Likewise, federal, state, and local campaign finance laws generally prohibit use of University resources in connection with any election to public office including but not limited to: funds, facilities, services or personnel. Therefore, University resources may not be used to promote, support, attack, or oppose any candidate for public office, any political party committee, ballot measure, or referendum, except to the extent approved by the Office of Legal Affairs. These restrictions do not apply to faculty or staff acting solely in an individual capacity on his/her own time and utilizing his/her own resources.
- The University respects the right of all members of the academic community to explore and to discuss questions that interest them, to express opinions publicly and privately, and to join together to demonstrate their concern by orderly means. The University also respects the right of all members of the academic community to be free from harassment. It is the policy of the University to protect the right of voluntary assembly, to make appropriate facilities available for peaceful assembly, welcome guest speakers, and to protect the exercise of these rights from disruption or interference. The rights to protest and demonstrate through such means as marches, rally, blockades, sit-ins, assembly, speeches, distribution of written materials, or other forms of expressive activities comes with the responsibility not to abuse or violate the civil and property rights of others or to interfere in the conduct of University business. Reasonable limitations may be placed on the time, place, and manner of such Protest and Demonstration activities in order to serve the interest of health and safety, prevent disruption of the educational process, and protect against the infringement of the rights of others.
3. Guidelines for Political, Campaign, and Lobbying Activity
- Permissible Political Activity. Political Activity (“Political Activity”) includes but is not limited to: efforts to influence the election, adoption, or defeat of a candidate, political party, ballot initiative or referendum; solicitation of contributions to candidates, political parties, political action committees, ballot initiatives or referendums, and section 501(c)(4) organizations; hosting campaign or fundraising events (including candidate appearances); volunteering for a campaign or other organization; and seeking elected or appointed office. Because the University encourages freedom of expression, Political Activity that does not reasonably imply that University involvement or identification may be undertaken so long as regular University procedures are followed, including those for use of facilities. More specifically, this policy does not forbid faculty or staff from running as a candidate for office or holding political office, or joining with others in support of candidates for office or in furtherance of political causes, when doing so in their personal capacity. Faculty and staff who expect to participate in Political Activity that could cause conflict with their University duties are expected to discuss the matter promptly with the appropriate dean or department head and the Vice President for Legal Affairs and Governmental Relations. Faculty and staff who plan to seek elected or appointed office must give prior written notice to the individual’s immediate supervisor with a copy to the Vice President for Legal Affairs and Government Relations. The objective of the discussion is a complete understanding and, if necessary, agreement as to a plan for changes of duties, use of paid leave, or other administrative actions sufficient to protect the University’s interests. There is no restriction on discussion of political issues or teaching of political techniques in a non-partisan manner (i.e., not supporting or opposing any political candidate or political party). Academic endeavors that address public policy issues are in no way prohibited or constrained.
- Faculty or Staff Involvement in Political Activities. A faculty or staff member’s University title may be used for identification purposes only. When speaking or writing at campaign events, or for campaign-related publications, advertisements, fundraising efforts, websites, blogs, email, or social media posts, faculty or staff members must clearly indicate that their comments are purely personal, neither part of their University responsibilities nor made on the University’s behalf, and do not represent the views of the University. A disclaimer noting “titles and affiliations are provided for identification purposes only and any views expressed by the individual are his/hers alone and do not reflect the views of Southern Methodist University or any of its constituent institutions,” should be added to the material. In addition, faculty and staff should only use personal email, social media, or other online accounts (and not smu.edu accounts or other University electronic resources) for the distribution of campaign messages, petitions, and similar material.
- Prohibited Political Activity. Southern Methodist University is prohibited under applicable federal, state, and local laws from using its resources to engage in Political Activity such as promoting, attacking, supporting, or opposing candidates for public office, political parties, ballot measures, referendums, or otherwise engaging in campaign activities, including raising money for candidates, party committees, ballot measures, referendums, section 501(c)(4) organizations, or other political committees (“Prohibited Political Activity”). This prohibition includes using University funds, facilities, classrooms and conference rooms, personnel, email addresses and systems, social media, titles, logos, or any other resources. In addition, University resources shall not be used to promote, support, attack, or oppose policy issues without advance written authorization from the President or Vice President for Legal Affairs and Governmental Relations (see section 3(d)).
- Use of Name. The name of the University (including use of the University seal, logos, or other identifiable marks or institutional affiliations) or the names of any of its schools, departments, or institutions may not be used in connection with Political Activity.
- Use of Technology. SMU Zoom and any other University accounts, software, or infrastructure may not be used for Political Activity. Care should be taken to avoid references on web pages, networks, social media, etc. to only one candidate’s information on a University website or other electronic media, as it may be interpreted as favoring a particular candidate. Websites of recognized student organizations that reside on or are linked to the University’s network may not be used to influence political campaigns, unless a disclaimer is posted on the organization’s website stating that the opinions expressed are those of the organization and not those of the University.
- Use of Personnel. Faculty or staff (including research assistants) may not, as part of his or her job, be asked to perform tasks in any way related to Prohibited Political Activity. No person can implicitly or explicitly require any faculty or staff member to make a political contribution. University funds cannot be used to reimburse individuals for political donations or to compensate or reimburse individuals for political activities.
- Use of Facilities.Absent any prior approval from the President or Vice President for Legal Affairs and Governmental Relations, University facilities may not be used for Prohibited Political Activity, including but not limited to raising of contributions, donations, admissions, fees, or sale of materials or services for Prohibited Political Activity.
- Use of Services and Resources. University services including but not limited to campus mail, equipment such as copy machines, computer resources, and telephones, bulk mail privileges, sales tax exemptions, databases, services, supplies, meeting rooms, or email lists may not be used for Prohibited Political Activity.
- Use of Work Time. Faculty and staff members may not use regularly scheduled work time for Prohibited Political Activity.
- Lobbying. No person may lobby on behalf of the University without specific authorization from the President or Vice President for Legal Affairs and Governmental Relations. The University is required by law to disclose its lobbying activities. Therefore, any faculty or staff member engaging in Permissible Political Activities that are in connection with policy issues on behalf of the University should discuss the relevant activities in advance with the Vice President for Legal Affairs and Governmental Relations.
- Giving of Gifts to Public Officials and Staff. Almost all jurisdictions have strict rules on the extent to which gifts may be given to public officials (both elected and non-elected officials and, often, staff). In some cases, gifts and honoraria are prohibited; in others they are limited; and in most cases they are subject to detailed disclosure. Meals, travel, and entertainment are the most common types of gifts, but gift rules can also apply in cases where public officials attend a reception or receive tickets to sporting or other events. As a non-profit organization, the University generally does not give gifts to public officials and, in those limited cases where it does give gifts, it must do so in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations. Therefore, any faculty or staff member who, on behalf of the University, wishes to make a gift to a public official must receive prior approval from the President or Vice President for Development and External Affairs before making such a gift.
- Candidates’ Presence at Public Events. Political candidates can visit the University without an invitation for events that are open to the public. However, fundraising and campaign volunteer recruitment is not permitted while in attendance.
- Candidates in Academic Settings.The University may choose to make its facilities available on an equal basis such that all legally qualified candidates are invited to appear, if such appearances constitute speeches, question-and-answer sessions, or similar communications in an academic setting and are not conducted as campaign rallies or events. The format of any such presentations must make clear that the University neither supports nor opposes the candidate. If candidates are invited to speak in a non-candidate capacity solely for reasons other than their candidacy, no reference to the election or candidacy should be made and a nonpartisan atmosphere must be maintained throughout the event. All prospective events involving candidates must be discussed in advance with the Vice President for Legal Affairs and Governmental Relations.
4. Protests and Demonstrations
Peaceful Protests or Demonstrations may take place on the University campus provided that:
- An Indoor Event Support Request form is submitted at least five days prior to the Protest or Demonstration occurring indoors, or an Outdoor Event Request form is submitted at least ten days prior to the Protest or Demonstration occurring outdoors. The form must be approved by the University Police Department which may consult with the offices of Student Affairs, the Office of Risk Management, Public Affairs, and the Office of Facilities Planning and Management;
- The normal function of the University must not be disrupted;
- Respect for the rights of others and University property must be maintained;
- Health and safety of protestors or demonstrators, University personnel, and the general public must not be compromised;
- Persons or organizations responsible for a Demonstration or other expressive event must remove all resulting signs and litter from the area at the conclusion of the event.
5. Off-Campus Person or Entity
Any off-campus person or entity not affiliated with the University wishing to hold a Protest or Demonstration on the SMU campus must be sponsored by an SMU department (i.e., academic department, institute, center or other academic or staff program) or chartered student organization. Sponsoring departments or organizations, individual students, faculty, and staff shall commit to the following:
- Provision of a contact person for the event;
- Discussion and coordination of financial responsibility for event-related expenses, which may include, but are not limited to, sanitation, security, clean-up, parking, and liability insurance;
- Compliance with all SMU policies and procedures;
- Assurance that the event is consistent with the mission and purpose of the department or organization;
- Confirmation of sponsorship in writing by the department or organization through an authorized signature on the Protest & Demonstration Request Form.
6. Rules and Procedures
- All protestors and demonstrators including visitors or non-University persons must abide by all applicable state and federal laws and University policies, rules and regulations.
- Protests or Demonstrations may be conducted only between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. No overnight Protest or Demonstration will be allowed at the University.
- The University will determine the location of the approved Protest or Demonstration. No structures of any sort may be erected without the express written consent of the Office of Risk Management.
- The Dallas Hall lawn may be reserved for Lawn Displays by a University department or registered student organization. No displays are allowed on Dallas Hall steps, sidewalks, fountain, or trees on the Dallas Hall lawn. The northern half of Dallas Hall lawn (between the sidewalks south of Dallas Hall and the Kennemer fountain) is available by reservation for a period of one 24-hour day, including set up and tear down time. The southern half of Dallas Hall lawn (between the Kennemer fountain and the Dedman College sign) is available by reservation for a period of up to three (3) days, including set up and tear down time. Display items (including any accompanying text or artwork) must be self-supporting and not interfere with the flow of pedestrian traffic. Reservations must be made at least ten (10) days in advance via the Outdoor Reservation form. Decisions are made on a first come, first served basis in a content-neutral manner. The northern and southern halves of Dallas Hall lawn may not be concurrently reserved.
- The safety and welfare of the University community are of paramount importance. Therefore, Protests and Demonstrations are subject to all applicable University policies and procedures including University Policy 9.5, Weapons, and the following requirements:
- It is unauthorized for any persons to stage, present, or conduct any Protest or Demonstration without first having obtained a permit as required;
- It is unauthorized for any person to participate in a Protest or Demonstration for which the person knows that a permit has been revoked or not granted;
- It is unauthorized for any person to continue to participate in a Protest or Demonstration after being informed by a law enforcement officer or University official that the permit for the event has been revoked or not granted;
- It is unauthorized for any person in charge of, or responsible for, the conduct of a duly-permitted Protest or Demonstration to fail to comply with any condition of the permit or this policy;
- It is unauthorized for any person who participates in any Protest or Demonstration activity to carry or possess any length of lumber, wood, or other non-metallic material, for purposes of displaying a sign, poster, plaque or notice, unless such material is rounded on the ends, is one and one-fourth inch (1¼") or less in thickness, and is two inches (2") or less in width;
- It is unauthorized for any person who participates in any Protest or Demonstration activity to carry or possess any length of metal for purposes of displaying a sign, poster, plaque or notice;
- It is unauthorized for any person to carry any sign, poster, plaque, or notice, whether mounted on a length of material as set forth in subsections (v.) and (vi.) immediately above, unless such sign, poster, plaque or notice is constructed or made of cloth, paper, or cardboard material.
- It is unauthorized for any person who participates in any Protest or Demonstration activity to carry or possess any torch, burning stick, or similar object with a flammable or combustible substance whether or not the object includes an open flame. This prohibition does not include candles six (6”) inches in height or less.
- It is unauthorized for any person who participates in any Protest or Demonstration activity to wear or employ body armor with the intent to incite conflict and violence. This prohibition shall include bulletproof vests, riot or combat helmets, riot or combat shields, and all other materials that may indicate a willingness and intention to engage in violent conflict. It is unauthorized for any person who participates in any Protest or Demonstration activity to wear any type of covering over their face, such as a hood, mask, or other facial coverage inhibiting full facial recognition with the intent to intimidate, threaten, abuse, or harass any other person. This prohibition is not intended to exclude hoods, masks, or facial coverage used in relation to religious beliefs, or incidental to amusement, entertainment, holiday events, protection from weather, or for prescribed medical purposes.
- It is unauthorized for a Protest or Demonstration to impede ingress or egress from University facilities or events.
- It is unauthorized to interfere with the educational mission through excessive noise in close proximity to classrooms, libraries, and labs.
- Chalking or other types of painting or tagging are not permitted on the SMU campus.
7. Revocation of Permit
The University may revoke a Protest or Demonstration permit immediately upon violation of the conditions or standards for issuance as set forth in this policy, or when an emergency arises having an immediate and adverse effect upon the welfare and safety of persons or property or the normal conduct of University business. Those who engage in activities such as making threats of violence toward specific individuals, disturbing the peace, obstructing or disrupting campus functions, or behavior that threatens health and safety may be prosecuted and/ or disciplined.
8. Consequences for Violation of this Policy
If any faculty or staff of SMU violates the terms of this policy, such individual may be subject to disciplinary action. Students who violate this policy may be subject to referral to the Office of Student conduct and Community Standards. Individuals and organizations may be charged for repair or cleaning of damaged surfaces.
Any questions or appeals of decisions regarding permits should be directed to the SMU Vice President for Business and Finance, who shall collaborate as necessary with the Provost, Vice President for Student Affairs or other University administrators.
10. Related Policies
- University Policy 1.3, Conflict of Interest
- University Policy 1.5, Use of University Name
- University Policy 5.9, Use of SMU Logos, Wordmarks and Brand Statements
- University Policy 6.4, Use of University Facilities by Non-University Individuals and Organizations
- University Policy 7.23, Personal Conduct
- University Policy 8.1, Acceptable Use
Appendix A: Definitions
“Demonstration” refers to the planned or spontaneous action by a group or individual taken to effect a protest
“Harassment” refers to engaging in acts, whether physical, psychological, verbal, written or digital-based, which are beyond the bounds of protected free speech, and directed at a specific individual or group, and likely to cause an immediate breach of the peace; conduct that threatens the mental health, physical health or security of any person or persons including, but not limited to, stalking, intimidation, or threat that unreasonably impairs the security or privacy of another member of the University community.
“Lawn Display” refers to any type of visual recognition or commemoration of an event or issue.
“Lobbying” refers to any attempt to influence the action of any legislative body (e.g. Congress, State Legislatures, City Councils and their staffs) or any federal, state, or local administrative agency.
“Political Activity” includes but is not limited to: efforts to influence the election, adoption or defeat of a candidate, political party, ballot initiative or referendum; solicitation of contributions to candidates, political parties, political action committees, ballot initiatives or referendums, and section 502(c)(4) organizations; hosting campaign or fundraising events (including candidate appearances); volunteering for a campaign or other organization; and seeking elected or appointed office.
“Protest” refers to an expression of opinion, by words or by actions, to particular events, policies or situations
“The Dallas Hall lawn” refers to the area south of Dallas Hall and north of the Dedman College sign between Boaz Lane and Robert S. Hyer Lane but does not include the Dallas Hall steps, sidewalks, fountain, or trees.
Revised: February 26, 2024
Adopted: October 2, 2017