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Office of General Counsel

Freedom of Speech on Campus

As an academic institution, the University of Maryland (UMD) exists for the advancement of knowledge, the pursuit of truth, the development of students, and the promotion of social well-being. Freedom of speech - the right to articulate ideas and opinions without interference, retaliation or punishment from the government (including public institutions of higher education) - is a critical component for the attainment of these objectives.
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The First Amendment

Grounded in the First Amendment to the US Constitution, our country has some of the strongest free-speech protections in the world, and they help form the bedrock of our democracy. The First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law 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." (emphasis added)

Public universities, like UMD, are subject to the constitutional restrictions set forth in the First Amendment and thus may not take action which infringes an individual’s freedom of speech under the Constitution. The First Amendment protects speech even when the ideas put forth are thought to be illogical, offensive, immoral or hateful. The US Supreme Court has said that “[i]f there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because it finds it offensive or disagreeable.” (Texas v. Johnson (1989))

The term “speech” constitutes expression that encompasses far more than just words to include, without limitation, what a person wears, reads, performs, protests, and more. The Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment protects symbolic expression, such as swastikas, burning crosses and peace signs because such expression is “closely akin to ‘pure speech.’”

University Role and Values

The ideas of different members of the campus community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of UMD to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although UMD greatly values civility, and although all members of the campus community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community. UMD observes and promotes the values of diversity and inclusion, and unequivocally condemns speech that supports prejudice and discrimination. UMD’s condemnation of hate is not a violation of the First Amendment, but rather is essential to preserving a diverse learning environment. As the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report on the University's Role in Political and Social Action stated, “the university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic.” For more on UMD’s role and values with respect to speech, see

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The University has adopted a Values Statement and a Statement on Free Speech Values. A joint effort between the President's Office and University Senate, the statements were developed by faculty, staff and students as part of the Joint President/Senate Inclusion and Respect Task Force in spring 2018.

The primary purpose of a university is to discover and disseminate knowledge through teaching, research, and service. To fulfill these functions, a free exchange of ideas is necessary not only within its walls but with the world beyond. The history of intellectual discovery and growth clearly demonstrates the need for freedom; the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable. Whenever someone is deprived of the right to state unmentionable views, others are necessarily deprived of the right to listen to and evaluate those views. Few institutions in our society have this same central purpose. It follows that a university must protect and guarantee intellectual and academic freedom. To do so it must promote an environment in which any and all ideas are presented. Through open exchange, vigorous debate, and rational discernment, the campus community can evaluate ideas.

Every member of the campus community has an obligation to support the right of free expression at the university, and to refrain from actions that reduce intellectual discussion. No member shall prevent such expression, which is protected under the constitutions of the United States and the State of Maryland.

The University does not have a speech code. History shows that marginalized communities have successfully promoted their interests because of the right to express their views. In fact, marginalized communities have been silenced by speech codes and other regulations against “offensive” speech.

In addition to the obligation to promote and protect free expression, individuals assume further responsibilities as members of the university. The campus expects each individual community member to consider the harm that may result from the use of slurs or disparaging epithets intended to malign, for example, another’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or physical or mental disability. While legal protections for free expression may sometimes supersede the values of civility and mutual respect, members of the university community should weigh these values carefully in exercising their fundamental right to free expression.

The University values and embraces the ideals of freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought and freedom of expression, all of which must be sustained in a community of scholars. While these freedoms protect controversial ideas and differing views, and sometimes offensive and hurtful words and symbols, they do not protect conduct that violates criminal law or university policy.

“Hate speech” is thought of as expression which is intended to promote or justify hatred for a particular group of people based on traits such as their race, sex, national origin, or religion. Generally, hate speech is considered to be protected speech under the First Amendment, no matter how offensive or hurtful it may be to an individual or group of people. For example, verbal support for a controversial or extremist speaker or group is constitutionally protected. However, if hate speech rises to the level of speech that is not protected by the First Amendment, such as true threats or prohibited harassment, then it is no longer entitled to protection by the First Amendment.

Freedom of speech does not mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. Not all speech is protected free speech. There are categories of speech that are not entitled to protection under the First Amendment. UMD may, for example, restrict speech that constitutes a genuine threat of harm to a particular individual or group, amounts to unlawful harassment, is intended and likely to provoke imminent unlawful action, falsely defames a specific individual, or otherwise violates the law. These exceptions to free speech have been interpreted narrowly by the US Supreme Court and state and federal courts.

The right to speak on campus is not a right to speak at any time, at any place, and in any manner that a person wishes. UMD may, and does, regulate – in a reasonable, viewpoint neutral fashion – where, when, and how speech occurs to ensure the functioning of the campus and to achieve important goals, such as educating students and protecting public safety. (See However, these are, once again, narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of speech, and it is vitally important that these exceptions never be used in a manner that is inconsistent with UMD’s commitment to a free and open discussion of ideas. In limited-access or nonpublic areas of campus, UMD may adopt more restrictive regulations on speech. Accordingly, the First Amendment does not protect an individual’s right to disrupt a class, play loud music in dorms late at night, or impede other people’s ability to enter and exit buildings.

The extent to which the government, including public universities, can control and regulate speech depends on the nature of the relevant forum and the governmental interest in the particular property. The right to limit speech is most circumscribed in traditional public forums – e.g., sidewalks, parks and other areas typically used by the public for purposes of assembly and discussing matters of public concern. The UMD campus is not a traditional public forum. Instead, only a portion of the UMD campus has been intentionally opened and designated as a public forum for expressive activities – for example, Hornbake Plaza. In these designated or limited public forums, UMD cannot treat similarly-situated groups differently, and must apply any rules or regulations on a content-neutral basis. Non-public forums are areas on campus, such as offices, classrooms, and dorms, that are not made available to the general public and allow for greater restrictions on speech.

Academic freedom is generally understood to mean the right of faculty in the discharge of their duties to express their ideas and challenge the ideas of others without fear of retribution by their institution. When it comes to those duties, faculty members should abstain from sharing their views of, or voicing their opinion on, matters that are not directly related and otherwise germane to the particular course, subject matter or area of study. For more on academic freedom, see

Outside of those duties, faculty members and other UMD employees do have the ability and right under the First Amendment to express themselves concerning matters of public interest, just like any other citizen. This right, however, is balanced against UMD’s interest “in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees.” (Pickering v. Board of Education (1968)). Further, to the extent they wish to do so, UMD employees should engage in any such expressive activities in their individual and personal capacities, without suggesting institutional sponsorship or support of those expressive activities.

Just like students themselves, student organizations at UMD have assembly and speech rights. UMD cannot deny to a group of students recognition as a student organization, so long as they meet established requirements to obtain such recognition (see Likewise, student organizations can engage in expressive activities on campus consistent with UMD’s time, place and manner restrictions for doing so. To do otherwise would be tantamount to viewpoint discrimination and contrary to our obligations under the Constitution and law.

Although members of the UMD community are free to criticize and contest the opinions expressed on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe. Freedom of speech does not give one permission to silence the speech of others by shouting, heckling or otherwise disrupting a speech to the point that the speaker cannot continue or that the audience can no longer listen, and UMD policy expressly prohibits such interference. If, for example, a speaker is giving a scheduled speech in an auditorium on campus, attempts to prevent that speaker from speaking by disrupting the event would likely not be protected by the First Amendment. Members of the UMD community can, however, use their own freedom of speech to make their opinions heard, while respecting the free speech rights of others. The best and most effective solution is to counter disagreeable or hateful speech with more speech. The US Supreme Court has stated, “[i]f there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” (Whitney v. California (1927))

Notwithstanding the existing constitutional and legal limitations on restricting the right to free speech, UMD encourages members of the campus community to treat each other with respect, dignity and civility. Just because there is a First Amendment right to say something, doesn’t mean it should be said. We can all work together to promote and ensure an environment where all students, faculty and staff are welcomed, respected and supported, and where members of our community are tolerant of the ideas and expression of others.

Doxing (or doxxing) is the malicious act of publicly revealing someone's private information online without their consent. This information can include someone’s private email address, phone number, home address, family address, financial details or sensitive documents.

Individuals typically share this information on various platforms to harass, intimidate or seek revenge on their target. Doxing can have serious consequences for victims, putting them at risk of stalking, identity theft, physical harm and even job loss.

The University of Maryland takes doxing very seriously and does not tolerate any such behavior. We thoroughly investigate all reported cases of doxing from our students, faculty or staff. If any University of Maryland community members is found responsible for doxing, this would violate our university’s policies (see, e.g., UMD Policy on Acceptable Use of Information Technology, USM Board of Regents Policy on Professional Conduct and Workplace Bullying, and UMD Code of Student Conduct ). These individuals will be held responsible and face disciplinary action.

We are committed to upholding a safe and secure environment for all members of our community and encourage anyone who has been affected by doxing to seek support from available resources such as the University Counseling Center, the Office of Civil Rights and Equity or the University Police Department.

The university is committed to proactively addressing this issue by sharing the following resources to mitigate doxing or the effects of it.

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UMD Reporting Resources

UMD encourages any member of the community who feels they’ve experienced threatening or intimidating conduct, bias, discrimination, and/or harassment to promptly report such incidents through one or more of the resources set forth below.  UMD policy specifically prohibits threatening or intimidating conduct (See  UMD also has a robust anti-retaliation policy that safeguards the right to engage in protected activity (See


Emergencies: 301-405-3333
Non-emergencies: 301-405-3555

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Student / Faculty / Staff Member of Concern Report

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