Task Force on Assembly and Expression recommends changes and clarification of rules

Oct. 31, 2002

AUSTIN, Texas—A task force created to review policies and practices affecting freedom of speech and assembly for students, faculty and staff at The University of Texas at Austin has recommended changes and clarifications of rules and the creation of five new locations on campus for rallies and other public assemblies using amplified sound.

The proposals of the Task Force on Assembly and Expression provide greater clarity of rules as they apply to members of the university community.

The task force emphasized that students, faculty and staff have access to the campus to express their points of view, but that certain areas must be designated for use of amplified sound that could disrupt classes or other activities.

The task force recommended the West Mall and other locations should be designated as "amplified sound" areas because they are areas where sound equipment may be used during weekdays without disrupting classes or other campus activities. The task force also recommended the creation of five new "amplified sound" areas, including the East Mall between Speedway Street and Inner Campus Drive; the Battle Oaks area, north of Hogg auditorium; 23rd and San Jacinto streets at the south end of the Art building; the area between the mustangs statue and the Texas Memorial Museum; and a site between Robert Dedman Drive and the LBJ Fountain.

Another recommendation is that students, faculty and staff be permitted to display and distribute literature from not-for-profit off-campus groups.

The task force, which included faculty, students and staff members, was chaired by Douglas Laycock, a School of Law professor who holds the Alice McKean Young Regents Chair in Law.

"We have proposed a bit of deregulation and a lot of clarification," Laycock said. "Students will be able to find all the rules in one place in a clear and organized presentation."

"I believe Doug Laycock and his committee have done an outstanding job of analyzing the university's relevant policies and procedures and making recommendations for improvements," said Larry R. Faulkner, president of The University of Texas at Austin. "We now make this report available to the university community and give members of the community 30 days in which to comment on the task force's recommendations.

"The Board of Regents ultimately will have to consider proposed changes in policy. The recommendations for procedural changes must be considered by the councils and administrative units that have responsibility for them."

The task force, created by Faulkner in January, met 19 times, Laycock said. The principal recommendations of the task force are in the form of proposed amendments to the Regents' Rules, a proposed recodification of the university's rules on free speech and conforming changes in the policies on harassment, and a proposed policy on police surveillance of political activity on campus. The task force said it investigated to the best of its ability and found no evidence of political abuse in the current or recent practices of the University Police Department, no political files on individuals or campus organizations, and no linkage between law enforcement files and academic files or student disciplinary files. The report recommended "that the department promulgate a set of guidelines for on-campus surveillance" based largely on the department's current practice. The task force said it believes a "written policy will both provide a stronger basis for current practice, a guide to individual officers and reassurance to much of the student body."

The proposals must go through normal review processes at The University of Texas System and campus levels.

Changes proposed by the task force include the repeal of a rule that prohibits public assemblies without prior written permission. The task force recommended advance permission be required for amplified sound, but not for the many public assemblies without amplified sound. It also urged that organizing groups consult informally with the dean of students prior to an event.

"Consultation gives adequate opportunity to avoid any unintentional disruption or conflict between university authorities and those assembling," the task force report said.

One of the proposals would clearly mark the boundaries of the university, either by some architectural feature or a painted stripe, to help determine where university property begins and ends. Clearly marking the boundaries, especially in areas such as sidewalks along Guadalupe Street and the plaza of the Erwin Center, would clarify the areas where off-campus speakers, solicitors and others would be subject to university regulations, the task force said.

The task force also proposed that an appropriate committee should review the procedures for enforcing rules that apply to faculty and staff in the context of limits on free speech, with the goal of creating equally effective enforcement mechanisms for students, faculty and staff.

Another proposal would clarify that an event on campus is co-sponsored (and thus not permitted) if the on-campus group "depends on the off-campus person or organization for planning, staffing or management of the event." The intent is not merely that there be at least one student, faculty member or staff member working at the event, but that students, faculty and staff do the bulk of the work, the task force said.

The task force also proposed the repeal of rules that exclude from Special Use Facilities religious organizations without proof of tax-exempt status and political parties that did not field candidates in the preceding election.

Among the several other proposals are: repeal of a ban on carrying signs inside buildings, creation of additional sites for placing of banners on campus, and a proposal for construction of additional kiosks providing more spaces for members of the university community to place notices and other information.

In addition to Laycock, the task force included: Cindy I. Carlson, professor of educational psychology; Elizabeth Cullingford, distinguished teaching professor and the Jane and Roland Blumberg Centennial Professor in English; Aaron Garza, student; Cullen M. Godfrey, vice chancellor for legal affairs at The University of Texas System; Martha F. Hilley, professor of music; Richard W. Lariviere, dean of the College of Liberal Arts; Nancy McCowen, executive assistant to the president; and Bruce P. Palka, professor of mathematics.

Also, David M. Rabban, distinguished teaching professor and holder of the Dahr Jamail, Randall Hage Jamail and Robert Lee Jamail Chair in Law; Alene Riley, student; Kevin Robnett, student; Victoria Rodriguez, vice provost; Janet Staiger, the Willam P. Hobby Centennial Professor in Communication; Jarrad A. Toussant, student; Cheryl L. Wood, senior student affairs administrator; and Glen M. Worley, manager of library services.

For more information contact: Don Hale, 512-471-3151. Send comments about the report to the Task Force on Assembly and Expression.