October 17, 2017
Dear faculty, staff, and graduate employees,
As an academic community, the University of Oregon strongly values free speech and academic freedom. Even content that may be offensive to many people is protected under the First Amendment and UO free-expression policies.
This value may be tested this week when a controversial group visits the university. They bring movable visual displays to campuses nationwide that contain graphic images associated with an antiabortion viewpoint. The images may be shocking to some. Due to the graphic nature of the display, the university is providing advance notice to campus so those who don’t want to see the images can avoid the EMU Green this Wednesday and Thursday.
A communication similar to this, including available resources, has gone out to all UO students. It is also possible that this demonstration may become a topic of conversation in classes, residence halls, and among coworkers.
The UO in no way supports the tactics of this group, but the university is a public entity and cannot restrict expression on the basis of the content or viewpoint. The group has filed the appropriate paperwork and met the requisite requirements of the facilities scheduling policy that allows a visitor to reserve space and put displays on our campus.
As a reminder, the United States and Oregon constitutions protect free expression, but that doesn’t mean that all actions associated with that speech is protected. Nonviolent speech and protests are appropriate ways to air views on a wide variety of topics. The UO prohibits actions that endanger, threaten, or harm the health and safety of another person, or interfere with the rights of others. The university’s free speech guidelines are posted on the safety and risk service website. Any conduct by this outside group or any other individual that violates university policy relating to prohibited harassment will be addressed.
It is important to acknowledge that some speech, even if legal, has the potential to cause anxiety, offend our individual beliefs, or insult our values. There are many ways an individual may deal with speech with which they disagree, such as ignoring it or peacefully speaking out against it.
While the university cannot restrict any group’s free speech rights, we can offer students and employees resources and support services to help them respond to any unease or distress that the free and open exchange of ideas can bring. In addition, faculty members may need to provide some extra travel time for students to arrive in class if they need to take an alternative route to class that avoids the display.
- The Teaching Engagement Program is available for confidential consultations for faculty and GEs who are considering the teaching implications of this demonstration. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to request a consultation or ask a question. Some of TEP's principles for response and advice for addressing difficult topics in class are here.
- Staff members of the Office of the Dean of Students will be available for drop-in support, available on Wednesday and Thursday at the Women’s Center in the EMU. Students may visit during drop-in hours after these dates at the Office of the Dean of Students in 164 Oregon Hall from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. on business days.
- The University Counseling and Testing Center is open until 5:00 p.m. on weekdays and offers 24-hour crisis support via phone: 541-346-3227.
- The Duck Nest in the EMU provides a place for students to practice self-care and life-balance. It is staffed by peer wellness advocates and is open until 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday and until 7:00 p.m. on Thursday.
- Faculty and staff members affected by the demonstration are encouraged to utilize counseling services through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) via phone, 800-433-2320, or online at hr.uoregon.edu/EAP.
- Supervisors needing assistance with a workplace issue arising from this demonstration should contact HR at 541-346-3159.
As President Michael Schill announced earlier this month, the School of Law and the School of Journalism and Communication will be working with other deans and UO leaders to develop a series of campus-wide panels and discussions about free speech this year.
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