Naked City

UT's Dept. Of Amplification

"The university does not and should not regulate the viewpoints expressed by its students, faculty, or staff, save for very narrow and long settled constitutional exceptions, such as incitement to imminent violence." That was the judgment of the UT Task Force on Assembly and Expression, in issuing its 45-page report and recommendations on UT-Austin free speech rules.

The task force, composed of faculty, students, and staff and chaired by Douglas Laycock of the School of Law, was appointed in January by UT President Larry Faulkner in the wake of a debate over rules governing campus assemblies after student and faculty protests of a controversial exhibit last year by the anti-abortion group Justice for All. (On Oct. 1, an Arizona-based group called the Alliance Defense Fund Law Center sued UT and 18 administrators, including two members of the task force, on behalf of Justice for All.) Earlier university committees had investigated that episode, and the task force confined itself to reviewing a wide range of standing university policies governing public assemblies, protests, posting of banners and distribution of literature, and the use of amplified sound.

One immediate recommendation was the abandonment of the term "free-speech zones" to refer to campus areas specifically designated for public assembly. The task force instead designated these "amplified sound areas," on the grounds that while the whole campus encourages free speech, certain locations should be designated for the use of amplified sound for public assemblies while not disrupting classes or other campus activities. The committee also recommended the creation of five more such designated amplified sound areas, chosen for their locations away from classroom buildings but also near areas of high student traffic.

Other recommendations included making policies clear and consistent throughout the university, and generally facilitating non-disruptive assemblies, including the removal of the requirement for advance administrative permission (except for the use of amplified sound). "We have proposed a bit of deregulation and a lot of clarification," said Laycock. "Students will be able to find all the rules in one place in a clear and organized presentation." The proposals must go through normal university review processes and eventually be considered for approval by the UT System Board of Regents.

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