Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act

Summary

This model policy applies to public institution of higher education and does the following: A) eliminates “free speech zones;” B) protects the right of all people to engage in lawful expression; C) protects students and student groups from disciplinary action because of their lawful expression, including belief-based organizations; D) requires that students be educated regarding their free speech rights/responsibilities; E) requires that administrators, campus police, etc. understand their duties regarding free expression on campus; and F) most importantly, empowers legislators to hold universities accountable by requiring each institution to report on free speech issues prior to the legislature’s appropriations process; G) allows alleged victims to bring a cause of action for violation of their free speech rights.

Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act

FORMING OPEN AND ROBUST UNIVERSITY MINDS (FORUM) ACT

WHEREAS, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the _____ Constitution protect the rights of free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom of association for all citizens.

WHEREAS, the Supreme Court has called public universities, “peculiarly the marketplace of ideas,” Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169, 180 (1972), where young adults learn to exercise these constitutional rights necessary to participate in our system of government and to tolerate others’ exercise of the same rights, and there is “no room for the view that…First Amendment protections should apply with less force on college campuses than in the community at large,” Healy, 408 U.S. at 180;

WHEREAS, the state legislature views the exercise of First Amendment rights on public university campuses in this state as critical components of the education experience for students and requires that each public university in this state ensure free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberations by students whether on or off campus;

WHEREAS, the state legislature finds that public universities in this state and elsewhere are failing to provide adequate safeguards for the First Amendment rights of their students leading to a stifling of expression on campus;

WHEREAS, the Supreme Court has warned that if public universities stifle student speech and prevent the open exchange of ideas on campus, “our civilization will stagnate and die.” Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234, 250 (1957); and

WHEREAS, this legislature has determined that a significant amount of taxpayer dollars is appropriated to public institutions of higher education each year and as such, this legislature must ensure that all public institutions of higher education receiving state funds recognize freedom of speech as a fundamental right for all, now therefore be it enacted by the state legislature of the state of _______ as follows:

This Act shall be known as the Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act  

Section 1: Definitions[1]

(1)“Benefit” means the following: (1) recognition; (2) registration; (3) the use of facilities of the institution of higher education for meetings or speaking purposes; (4) the use of channels of communication; and (5) funding sources that are otherwise available to other student associations at the public institution of higher education.

(2) “Campus Community” includes students, administrators, faculty and staff at the institution of higher education and their invited guests.

(3)“Counter demonstration” means lawful action or conduct that criticizes or objects to the free expression activities of others on campus, does not violate the rights of others in the campus community by materially disrupting previously scheduled or reserved activities in a portion or section of the campus at that scheduled time.

(4)“Harassment” shall mean only that expression that is so severe, pervasive, and subjectively and objectively offensive that it unreasonably interferes with an individual’s access to an educational opportunities or benefits provided by the public institution of higher education.

(5)“Outdoor areas of campus” means the generally accessible outside areas of campus where members of the university community are commonly allowed, such as grassy areas, walkways or other similar common areas and does not include outdoor areas where access is restricted to a majority of the campus community.

(6)“Public institution of higher education” means any public technical institute, public junior college, public senior college or university, law school, medical or dental school, public state college, or other agency of higher education as defined in section ____ of the ____ Code.

(7)“Student” means any person who is enrolled on a full-time or part-time basis in a public institution of higher education.

(8) “Student organization” means an officially recognized group at a public institution of higher education, or a group seeking official recognition, comprised of admitted students that receive, or are seeking to receive, benefits through the institution of higher education as defined in this section.

Section 2.  Expressive activities protected under the provisions of this Act include, but are not limited to, any lawful verbal or written means by which individuals may communicate ideas to one another, including all forms of peaceful assembly, protests, speeches and guest speakers, distribution of literature, carrying signs, and circulating petitions.

Section 3. The outdoor areas of campuses of public institutions of higher education in this state shall be deemed traditional public forums. Public institutions of higher education may maintain and enforce reasonable time, place and manner restrictions narrowly tailored in service of a significant institutional interest only when such restrictions employ clear, published, content, and viewpoint-neutral criteria, and provide for ample alternative means of expression. Any such restrictions shall allow for members of the campus community to spontaneously and contemporaneously assemble and distribute literature.

  • Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as limiting the right of student expression elsewhere on campus.

Section 4. Any person who wishes to engage in non-commercial expressive activity on campus shall be permitted to do so freely, as long as the person’s conduct is not unlawful and does not materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the public institution of higher education, subject only to the requirements of section 3 herein.

  • Nothing in this section shall prohibit public institutions of higher education from maintaining and enforcing reasonable time, place and manner restrictions that are narrowly tailored to serve a significant institutional interest only when such restrictions employ clear, published, content and viewpoint-neutral criteria. Any such restrictions shall allow for members of the campus community to spontaneously and contemporaneously assemble and distribute literature.
  • Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as preventing public institutions of higher education from prohibiting, limiting, or restricting expression that the First Amendment does not protect (e.g. true threats, expression directed to provoke imminent lawless actions and likely to produce it,) or prohibiting harassment as defined in section 1 of this Act.
  • Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as limiting the right of members of the campus community from holding counter demonstrations, so long as the conduct of such counter demonstrations is not unlawful and does not materially and substantially prohibit the free expression rights of others on campus, or disrupts the functioning of the institution of higher education.

Freedom of Association and Nondiscrimination Against Student(s) and Student Organizations

Section 5.  No public institution of higher education may deny a belief-based student organization any benefit or privilege available to any other student organization, or otherwise discriminate against a belief-based organization, based on the expression of the organization, including any requirement that the leaders or members of such organization:

(1)  Affirm and adhere to the organization’s sincerely held beliefs;

(2)  Comply with the organization’s standards of conduct; or

(3)  Further the organization’s mission or purpose, as defined by the student organization

Free Speech Education for Members of the Campus Community

Section 6. Public institutions of higher education shall make public in their handbooks, on their websites, and through their orientation programs for students the policies, regulations, and expectations of students regarding free expression on campus consistent with this Act.

Section 7. Public institutions of higher education shall develop materials, programs, and  procedures to ensure that those persons who have responsibility for discipline or education of students, such as administrators, campus police officers, residence life officials, and professors, understand the policies, regulations, and duties of public institutions of higher education regarding free expression on campus consistent with this Act.

Accountability to the Public

Section 8. Each public institution of higher education shall publicly post on their website, as well as submit to the governor and state legislature by ______ (30 days prior to the beginning of the state legislative session), a report which will detail the course of action implemented to be in compliance with the requirements of this Act. A report shall also be given in the instance of any changes or updates to the chosen course of action. The information required in the report must be:

  • accessible from the institution’s Internet website home page by use of not more than three links;

(2)  searchable by keywords and phrases; and

(3)  accessible to the public without requiring registration or use of a user name, a password, or

another user identification.

(4) The report shall include:

  • A description of any barriers to or incidents of disruption of free expression occurring on campus, including but not limited to attempts to block or prohibit speakers and investigations into students or student organizations for their speech. The description shall include the nature of each barrier or incident, as well as what disciplinary action, if any, was taken against members of the campus community determined to be responsible for those specific barriers or incidents involving students shall be reported without revealing those students’ personally identifiable information; and
  • Any other information each public institution of higher education deems valuable for the public to evaluate whether free expression rights for all members of the campus community have been equally protected and enforced consistent with this act.
  • If a public institution of higher education is sued for an alleged violation of First Amendment rights, a supplementary report with a copy of the complaint must be submitted to the governor and state legislature within 30 days.

Remedies

Section 9. Any person or student association aggrieved by a violation of this Act may bring an action against the public institution of higher education and any other persons responsible for the violation and seek appropriate relief, including, but not limited to, injunctive relief, monetary damages, reasonable attorneys’ fees, and court costs. Any person or student organization aggrieved by a violation of this Act may assert such violation as a defense or counter claim in any disciplinary action or in any civil or administrative proceedings brought against such student or student organization. Nothing in this section shall be interpreted to limit any other remedies available to any person or student organization.

Statute of Limitations

Section 10. A person shall be required to bring suit for violation of this section not later than one year after the day the cause of action accrues. For purposes of calculating the one-year limitation period, each day that the violation persists, and each day that a policy in violation of this section remains in effect, shall constitute a new violation of this section and, therefore, a new day that the cause of action has accrued.

Immunity

Section 11.  The state waives immunity under the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution and consents to suit in a federal court for lawsuits arising out of this act. A public institution of higher education that violates this act is not immune from suit or liability for the violation.

Severability

Section 12. If any provision of this act or any application of such provision to any person or circumstance is held to be unconstitutional, the remainder of this act and the application of the provision to any other person or circumstance shall not be affected.

Effect

Section 13. This act shall take effect upon its passage.

[1]  The Board of Trustees of the state university system shall develop and adopt a policy on free expression that contains, at least, the following:

  1. A statement that the primary function of an institution of higher education is the discovery, improvement, transmission, and dissemination of knowledge by means of research, teaching, discussion, and debate. This statement shall provide that, to fulfill this function, the institution must strive to ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression.
  2. A statement that it is not the proper role of the institution to shield individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment, including, without limitation, ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.
  3. That students and faculty have the freedom to discuss any problem that presents itself, as the First Amendment permits and within the limits of reasonable viewpoint — and content-neutral restrictions on time, place, and manner of expression that are consistent with this act and that are necessary to achieve a significant institutional interest; provided that these restrictions are clear, published, and provide ample alternative means of expression. Students and faculty shall be permitted to assemble and engage in spontaneous expressive activity as long as such activity is not unlawful and does not materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the institution, subject to the requirements of this subsection.
  4. That the public areas of campuses of the institution are traditional public forums, open on the same terms to any speaker.
  5.  OPTIONAL: That the institution (1) shall strive to remain neutral, as an institution, on the public policy controversies of the day, and (2) may not take action, as an institution, on the public policy controversies of the day in such a way as to require students or faculty to publicly express a given view of social policy.