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Policy on Speech, Expression and Civil Discourse

In the fall of 2016, Saint Louis University began a concerted effort to examine current policies and practices regarding free speech on campus. Supported by research and dialogue, a new statement of philosophy has guided the creation of a formal speech, expression and civil discourse policy with procedures designed to support the vigorous and respectful exchange of ideas on our campus.

Statement of Philosophy: Key Elements 

  • Examines freedom of speech in context of Jesuit tradition
  • Identifies fundamental ideal of vigorous exchange of ideas that are foundational to a university
  • Affirms a value of respect for diversity and, in particular, for the marginalized.
  • Articulates a set of Ignatian guidelines for civil discourse as the basis for the University’s policy and procedures

Read SLU's Full Policy on Civil Discourse, Speech and Expression
Read the Statement of Philosophy Guiding the Policy

Frequently Asked Questions: Who?

Who is covered by the SLU Policy on Speech, Expression and Civil Discourse?

All members of the SLU community—students, faculty and staff—and their invited guests are subject to the requirements of the Policy.

Who is responsible for assuring the requirements of the Policy are met?

The responsibility is shared between the sponsoring individual or organization and the University. The sponsor is expected to consider the Statement and the Policy in developing proposed events involving either internal or outside speakers or performers and prepare and submit the documentation required by the Policy and supporting procedures. The University is responsible for assuring that such events are organized and presented in a manner that both promotes civil discourse and protects the safety of members of its community.

Who represents the University’s interests in administering the Policy?

The Relevant Official (RO) is the University administrator responsible and accountable for the administration of the Policy in a specific area. For example: the Vice President for Student Development is the RO in the case of student sponsored events and the Provost) is the RO for faculty sponsored events. The RO responsibility may be delegated at the discretion of the designated RO.

Who represents the University’s interests at a specific event?

A member of the administration may be named as Designated University Official (DUO) for a specific event, particularly if the event is one with potential for conflict or disruption. The DUO is responsible for assuring the event proceeds in a manner consistent with the Policy that supports the speaker’s or performer’s right to be heard and the audience’s right to see and hear the speech or performance.

Who determines whether a proposed event may be problematic?

Event sponsors and designated University officials have a joint responsibility for assessing whether a proposed speaker or performer is likely to be considered offensive or harmful by individuals or groups within the SLU community.

 

Frequently Asked Questions: What?

What would cause a speech/performance request to be denied?

Although a denial is expected to be a rare occurrence, the University has a primary responsibility to ensure the safety of community members participating in, or attending, events on campus, and when an event is deemed inconsistent with that responsibility, approval may be withheld.

Such denials will be based on careful consideration of the event’s potential to incite violence against any group, to threaten imminently the safety of any of its members, or to promote the violation of law, or are deemed likely to constitute a clear, present and significant risk to the orderly implementation of the University’s activities and its obligation to maintain a safe environment for its community and its members.

What if a sponsor followed the Policy and procedures to host a speaker, and the speaker is still offensive to members of the community?

In instances where an individual or group in the SLU community is likely to be aggrieved by a speaker or performer, it is strongly encouraged that a conversation take place in advance involving University officials, the sponsor, and potentially aggrieved parties to examine and consider potential impacts and concerns. The Policy provides several mechanisms for presentation of alternative views and discourse, as well as opportunity for organized and spontaneous protest of an event.

What checks and balances are provided in the approval process?

There are several opportunities for a sponsor to explain the potential contribution of a speech or performance to the primary educational mission of the University, and to accommodate concerns raised by others, in the process of applying for and receiving approval under the Policy. Where these efforts are unsuccessful, and an application is rejected, the Policy provides for an appeal process where the sponsor can seek a review of the decision concerning the event.

What kinds of event are excluded from the Policy?

The Policy does not apply to speakers invited to address a class as a part of the curriculum; to convocations such as commencement; or to speakers and performers in designated University venues when such venues have been rented to unaffiliated organizations, either for-profit or not-for-profit.

What is the definition of a “University Event”?

A University Event is one at which attendance is limited to members of the sponsoring group (closed university event) or to the SLU Academic community (open university event).

 

Frequently Asked Questions: When?

When does the Policy apply?

 The Policy applies when an outside speaker or performer is invited to a public event or a University event as defined, or when a member of the University community or a University organization presents a speech or performance outside the classroom or not as a part of the curriculum for an academic course.  

When is a disclaimer required in publicity relating to an event?

In publicizing any event, the sponsor will clearly indicate in all materials and media that “The views expressed by speakers, presenters, or others who participate in this program do not imply approval or endorsement by the sponsoring group or by Saint Louis University.”

When might the University require offering an alternative perspective in conjunction with a speech or performance?

In some instances, the University’s senior administration may determine that it is important to offer a perspective in accordance with the University’s Catholic Jesuit identity if the subject matter of a speech, performance or presentation is clearly contrary to moral and social teachings of the Catholic Church.

 

Frequently Asked Questions: Where?

Where do I go to submit a submit a speaker application?

The requirements for an application and the required forms are accessible on the University’s Civil Discourse, Speech and Expression website (insert url?) Only SLU community members can request approval through this page as SLU Groups requires a SLU log in. 

Where can a protest or demonstration related to an approved speech or performance take place?

Protest by members of the University community is a form of expression of free speech that is supported by the University, provided such activities do not violate a speaker or performer’s ability to be heard and an audience’s ability to see and hear a speech or performance. The sponsor and the University administration will assess the potential for protest related to an event and provide appropriate accommodations for such protests. However, it is not required that protests be limited to a specific location, and all publicly accessible spaces on the campus are available for protest, provided that such activities do not violate this or other University policies.

 

Frequently Asked Questions: Why?

Why might a University official intervene in an ongoing event?

The DUO will only intervene in the event when requested by the sponsor’s representative or if the event crosses the threshold to involve a legal or safety concern. The concerns that may require intervention are detailed in the Policy, Section 4.3.  One of the most critical issues faced across all higher education institutions today is freedom of speech and expression. Concern with how to maintain academe’s traditional openness in an increasingly polarized and contentious social environment has been widely discussed in both the academic press and the public media. SLU is committed to freedom of expression, consistent with its Catholic Jesuit heritage and its status as a research university. In support of the commitment, and through the Policy, the University seeks to create an environment for learning that embraces diverse opinions across political and ideological spectrums and encourages civil discourse while assuring that the legitimate concerns of the institution for reverence toward diversity, safety of its community and security of the campus environment are met.

Why has the University developed this Policy?

One of the most critical issues faced across all higher education institutions today is freedom of speech and expression. Concern with how to maintain academe’s traditional openness in an increasingly polarized and contentious social environment has been widely discussed in both the academic press and the public media. SLU is committed to freedom of expression, consistent with its Catholic Jesuit heritage and its status as a research university. In support of the commitment, and through the Policy, the University seeks to create an environment for learning that embraces diverse opinions across political and ideological spectrums and encourages civil discourse while assuring that the legitimate concerns of the institution for reverence toward diversity, safety of its community and security of the campus environment are met.


Frequently Asked Questions: How?

How does this Policy support or counter the University’s Ignatian values or mission?

 Providing opportunities for free expression is fundamental to its role as an academic institution, and, in particular, as a Catholic Jesuit University dedicated to the pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God and for the service of humanity. The focus of the Policy is on creating an environment for learning that embraces diverse opinions across political and ideological spectrums and encourages civil discourse while assuring that the legitimate concerns of the institution for reverence toward diversity, safety of its community and security of the campus environment are met.

How does the policy classify different types of events on campus?

A closed university event is one at which attendance is limited to members of the sponsoring group; an open university event is accessible to the larger SLU Academic community.

The policy applies to outside speakers and performers, and to out-of-class (non-curricular) speakers/performers within SLU community.  It does not apply to the classroom/curriculum, to University convocations or to events presented in University venues when rented by an outside organization.

How would someone report potential unrest or conflict?
 In most instances, the Policy anticipates the sponsor of an event will identify such potential as a part of the planning for the event, and work with the University to provide appropriate opportunities for expression of opposing views. 
How would someone protest a scheduled speaker?
Protest by members of the University community is a form of expression of free speech that is supported by the University, provided such activities do not violate a speaker or performer’s ability to be heard and an audience’s ability to see and hear a speech or performance. Sponsors and University officials will work together when protests are anticipated to provide a reasonable accommodation for protesters.  
How does SLU’s Policy impact the classroom teaching of its faculty? 
Speakers or performers who are invited by faculty into the classroom or as a regular part of the curriculum are exempt from the Policy. 
 How can a decision concerning an event be appealed?
A sponsor has the right to appeal any decision to reject or restrict a request by submitting a written or electronic document detailing its response to the reasons given for the rejection of restriction and requesting relief. The RO will consult with the Civil Discourse, Speech and Expression Committee (CDSEC) concerning the matters raised by the sponsor, and the RO and CDSEC will make a recommendation concerning disposition of the appeal to the President, who has the final authority to uphold or set aside the original decision. 
How does the Policy relate to other related University policies and procedures?
The Policy complements but does not address the scope of other policies like the University’s Bias-Related Incident Protocol or the University’s Harassment Policy. If speech and expressive activities during the events covered by this policy give rise to reports of bias, hate, or harassment, then these two policies provide the mechanisms for addressing the allegations.