Dean of Students
Free Speech at Tennessee Tech
Tennessee Tech upholds students’ fundamental right to free speech and is committed to giving students the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, learn, and discuss any issue, subject only to limitations set forth in in state or federal law, and as reflected in Policy 007: Free Speech on Campus.
All Tennessee Tech polices can be accessed online through Policy Central.
Campus Free Speech Protection Act
In May 2017, the Campus Free Speech Protection Act was signed into law by the Tennessee State Legislature, which applies to all public institutions of higher education in the state.
The law states “it is not the proper role of an institution to attempt to shield individuals from free speech, including ideas and opinions they find offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, radical, or wrong-headed.”
Further, the law emphasizes that while members of the campus community are free to state their own views and contest what others are saying, “they may not substantially obstruct or otherwise substantially interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.”
In June 2017, Tennessee Tech’s Board of Trustees adopted a policy affirming principles of free speech on campus.
Tennessee Tech's Free Speech on Campus policy can be accessed through our Policy Central website.
- What speech is protected by the First Amendment?
Among other rights, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the freedom of speech from most government restriction.
Free speech can include both private and public speaking, demonstrations, rallies, vigils, marches, distribution of printed materials, carrying signs, displays, and circulating petitions.
The First Amendment protects speech that some or even a majority of people find disagreeable, offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, radical, or wrong-headed.
As expressed in the Campus Free Speech Protection Act, universities should not to attempt to shield individuals from free speech, including ideas and opinions they oppose.
- What speech is not protected by the First Amendment?
The First Amendment does not protect all speech from government restriction. The government may restrict sexual harassment, obscenity, incitements of illegal activity or violence and certain commercial speech.
For instance, the Student Conduct policy prohibits making a statement that an objectively reasonable person would interpret as a serious intent to commit an act of violence against another person or persons.
Keep in mind the government (and, thus, the university) cannot punish someone for inflammatory speech unless it’s directed to incite immediate violence against or illegal action – what the law calls “imminent lawless action.” So, both kind and hurtful speech is protected. Even what is commonly called “hate speech” – cannot be restricted by the government or the university unless it is likely to cause immediate violence or illegal action (such as rioting or destruction of property) or is targeted sexual harassment.
If you have questions regarding free speech, reach out to the Dean of Students office.
- Do students have to ask for approval to have an outdoor assembly?
Tennessee Tech does not have permitting requirements for students to have spontaneous outdoor assemblies. However, the university tries to accommodate students’ planned activities and allows members of the Tennessee Tech community to reserve certain outdoor space in advance, consistent with TTU Policy 121.
Tennessee Tech's Policy 121 (Use of Tennessee Tech Property by Affiliated Users and for Free Speech Activities) can be accessed through the Policy Central website.
- Can students pass out literature on campus (flyers, pamphlets, etc.)?
Yes. Students may distribute literature in outdoor areas.
- Can students invite a guest speaker to campus?
A student, registered student organization, or a faculty member may invite a guest speaker, provided they assume responsibility for all matters related to the activity or event such as submitting an application for use and serving as the primary contact for the event. For more details, review Policy 121 which may be accessed through the Policy Central website.
- What about people who are not part of the Tennessee Tech community speaking on campus?
Individuals or groups not affiliated with Tennessee Tech can apply to conduct free speech activities on the Centennial Plaza stage at certain times during the semester. The university does not approve or endorse any group’s particular message. Regardless of any speaker’s content, the university asks students to respectfully allow the speakers to exercise their free speech rights in the same manner as they would like to have their own rights respected.
Some students enjoy engaging with speakers, especially those the students believe are substantively wrong. Note, however, that if you find any speech not only wrong, but unkind or even hurtful, you may exercise your own free speech by disengaging or walking away. And, if something you hear causes you personal dismay beyond disagreement or discomfort, please consider contacting the Counseling Center.
- Who can students contact for more information about Free Speech on campus?