This page is intended to introduce students, faculty and staff, and friends of the University of Minnesota Duluth to the laws and policies governing the University as a public institution with regards to freedom of expression. Here, you will find legislation, freedom of expression experts, a history of expression at the University, off-campus resources dedicated to supporting freedom of expression, and information about how to critically navigate an environment of free expression.
The 1st Amendment and Minnesota State Laws
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution establishes religious freedom, free speech, free press, freedom of association and protest, and freedom to petition the government. The First Amendment prohibits any level of government from passing laws and regulations “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The Supreme Court of the United States has clarified how the First Amendment, particularly its protection of free speech, is applied to colleges and universities. Students enjoy freedoms of speech, protest, association, inquiry, and other First Amendment protections while attending college.
Below are several links to the text of the First Amendment, free expression as protected in the Minnesota State Constitution, and other resources regarding First Amendment law.
- US Constitution - First Amendment
- Minnesota Bill of Rights - Liberty of the press
- Further reading on the First Amendment law:
- Academic Freedom: An overview of the legal foundations of academic freedom and responsibility
- Government as Educator: How free speech at a public educational institution such as the U of M intersects with the rights of students
- Government Restraint of Content of Expression: The few exceptions to when the government can restrict speech based on its content.
- Rights of Students: An overview of the First Amendment rights of students, including college students
- Student Activities Fees: An overview of the assessment and use of student activities fees by higher education institutions
- On-campus Housing: A peer reviewed article from the Journal of College and University Housing addressing First Amendment issues in public space within University housing facilities.
Controversial Ideas and Offensive Speech
By the nature of the University’s educational purpose, new ideas and different worldviews will challenge students in and out of the classroom. Many of these new perspectives are intended to broaden students’ understanding so that they may act in ways of leadership to change society for the better. As students grow in their understanding of the world, they are likely to experience discomfort and may be offended by certain ideas expressed on campus. In many cases discomfort is necessary for growth.
What remains a challenge for our campus community (and campuses across the nation) is how to handle discomfort and offensive ideas that threaten or challenge students' abilities to learn. The University supports students’ right to speak and protest against ideas they find offensive and encourages students to advocate for social justice on and off-campus.
There are a few categories of unprotected speech: these forms of speech are unconstitutional and are not protected by the law. The Congressional Research Service has compiled a brief of these categories of unprotected speech. If you have experienced an unprotected form of speech, please visit Support for University resources.
Visit Engage for ways to express dissenting viewpoints.
Hate Speech on Campus
Hate Speech has No Place in Our Community
Hate speech has no place in our University community. A key guiding principle to fulfilling the University of Minnesota's mission is sustaining “an atmosphere of mutual respect, free from racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice and intolerance” throughout all activities. The University of Minnesota unequivocally condemns speech that supports prejudice and discrimination. Therefore UMD’s condemnation of hate is not a violation of the First Amendment, but rather is essential to preserving a diverse learning environment.
Goal 2 of UMD’s strategic plan defines our commitment to creating a positive and inclusive campus climate for all by advancing equity, diversity, and social justice. That means embodying the values of respect, inclusiveness and equity while recognizing the individual needs, abilities, and potential of all.
All members of our community, not just students, are encouraged to confront hateful speech with speech of their own. Our community cannot rely on Black, Indigenous, Students of Color; LGBTQIA+ students; and others who hold historically marginalized identities to defend our community’s values. The community calls on those who hold power and privilege in our society to defend our shared commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The ‘Got your Back!’ program at UMD encourages everyone to notice harmful situations happening around them and to take steps to safely and effectively intervene. To learn more and develop your skills for intervention, check out a Got your Back! UMD program or event.
Visit Engage for ways to fight hate speech with more speech.
Legal Status of Hate Speech
While the First Amendment is the cornerstone of the University’s educational mission, the First Amendment also protects speech that is hateful. Hate speech does not have a recognized legal definition in the United States. Attempts by government or public universities to regulate racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic, and other forms of hate speech have been struck down by the Supreme Court because these regulations were viewed as unconstitutional content-based prohibition of speech.
Critical legal scholars argue hate speech should not be protected by the First Amendment. They find that hate speech causes its targets psychological and physiological harm, and implies others are inferior because of their identity. Critical legal scholars argue hate speech should equate to true and direct threats or fighting words, both of which are not protected forms of speech.
When hate speech becomes so pervasive and severe that it interferes with someone's ability to work and/or learn at the University, it becomes discriminatory harassment. The First Amendment does not protect discriminatory harassment or targeted threats. The University has a moral and legal obligation to take action to support students’ equal opportunity and access to education, which is articulated in policy through Board of Regents Policy: Equity, Diversity, Equal Opportunity, and Affirmative Action.
- People who believe they have been discriminated against or harassed based on a protected class (defined here) by a University employee should report misconduct to the Office for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.
- Student violations of the Student Conduct Code should be reported to the Office of Student Conduct & Conflict Resolution.
- Critical Race Theory: An overview of critical race theory applied to understandings of the First Amendment, especially in arguing against the protection of hate speech.
- EOAA procedures for allegations of discrimination and harassment
- Hate Speech: (cw: images of cross burning) A summary of the debate over the protection of hate speech.
- In the Face of Hate, Public Universities Struggle to Balance Inclusivity, Free Speech: Article from Diverse Issues in Higher Education discussing how public universities navigate their commitment to an inclusive campus climate and free speech that at times contradicts that commitment.
- Speech on campus: A Q&A from the ACLU addressing concerns about offensive speech and hate speech on campus.
- Books and articles on speech in higher education environments
Several policies at the University of Minnesota reaffirm the right to free expression for students, faculty, and staff.
“Academic freedom is the freedom, without institutional discipline or restraint, to discuss all relevant matters in the classroom, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research, and creative expression, and to speak or write on matters of public concern as well as on matters related to professional duties and the functioning of the University."
The Student Conduct Code governs the conduct of all University of Minnesota students. Students rights and responsibilities under the First Amendment is key feature of the Code’s guiding principles:
“Students are entitled to the rights and responsibilities of other citizens with regard to freedom of speech, peaceable assembly, and right to petition. Students are entitled to exercise their rights to inquire and dissent, speak freely, and peaceably assemble and protest to the extent permissible under both the First Amendment and the Student Conduct Code.”
The Code of Conduct applies to Regents, administrators, staff, and faculty. It further establishes the University’s commitment to promoting academic freedom and responsibility for all staff, faculty and Regents.
Section 3, Subd. 6. Preserve Academic Freedom and Meet Academic Responsibilities
Academic freedom is essential to achieving the University's mission. Community members are expected to:
- promote academic freedom, including the freedom to discuss all relevant matters in the classroom, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research, and creative expression, and to speak or write as a public citizen without institutional restraint or discipline
- meet academic responsibilities, which means to seek and state the truth; to develop and maintain scholarly competence; to foster and defend intellectual honesty and freedom of inquiry and instruction; to respect those with differing views; to submit knowledge and claims to peer review; to work together to foster education of students; and to acknowledge when an individual is not speaking for the institution
- Board of Regents policy: Equity, Diversity, Equal Opportunity, and Affirmative Action
The Equity statement affirms the University of Minnesota system’s commitment to promoting diversity and equity on our campuses.
- As a member of the University community, you are entitled to “an environment for faculty, staff, students, and visitors that actively acknowledges and values equity and diversity and is free from racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, and other forms of prejudice, intolerance, or harassment.”
Student Activism on Campus
Protests by and activism from students have had profound impacts on the history of the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Here are a few key examples from the University’s past that demonstrate the importance of protecting and supporting student voices.
|1969||A group of Black students met with Provost Raymond W. Darland and staff members about problems faced by Black people at UMD and in the Duluth area “Afro-Americans Meet with Darland”|
|1970||"Homosexuals are people!" editorial published in the student newspaper|
|1978||Gay Alliance/Gay and Lesbian Alliance founded.|
|1990||GLBT Advisory Commission founded, now called the GLBTQAI (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Asexual, Intersex) Commission|
|1999||ULGBA becomes ULGBTA - University Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Alliance|
|2000||QSU/QASU - Queer Students Union/Queer and Allied Student Union founded|
|2007||First LGBT Studies Class offered, CST 2001: Introduction to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies|
|2010||March Against Racism , May 5, 2010|
|2012||TRANS*FORMATION founded, TRANS*FORMATION flyer (1), TRANS*FORMATION flyer (2)|
|2015||LGBTQ Studies Minor added|
|2018||Queer, Trans, Intersex, Indigenous People and People of Color Collective (QTIIPOCC) founded|
|2020||Black Men Serving Excellence founded. B.M.S.E. Peaceful Protest, September 16, 2020|
These UMD faculty and staff have expertise in the area of freedom of expression.
|Name||Relevant courses taught and/or specific areas of expertise|
Director, Kirby Student Center
Associate Professor of Journalism
Associate Professor, Department of Communication
Assistant Professor, Department of Communication
These additional resources are also recommended.
- American Civil Liberties Union | https://www.aclu.org/
- “For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been our nation’s guardian of liberty, working in courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and the laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country. Whether it’s achieving full equality for LGBT people, establishing new privacy protections for our digital age of widespread government surveillance, ending mass incarceration, or preserving the right to vote or the right to have an abortion, the ACLU takes up the toughest civil liberties cases and issues to defend all people from government abuse and overreach.”
- FIRE | https://www.thefire.org/
- “FIRE’s mission is to defend and sustain the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience—the essential qualities of liberty.”
- PEN America | https://pen.org/
- “PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.”
- Campus Free Speech Guide
- NCAC | https://ncac.org/
- “NCAC’s mission is to promote freedom of thought, inquiry and expression and oppose censorship in all its forms... NCAC is unique in that we are national in scope, but often local in our approach. We work with community members to resolve censorship controversies without the need for litigation.”
- Speech First | https://speechfirst.org
- “Speech First will protect students’ free speech rights on campus. Through advocacy, litigation, and education, we will put colleges and universities on notice that shutting down unwanted speech will no longer be tolerated.”
- The Chicago Principles |Chicago Statement
- The Chicago Statement is a landmark document from the University of Chicago that provided a framework for universities to affirm First Amendment rights and the pursuit of academic freedom.