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UT Austin Vigorously Protects Free Speech

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AUSTIN, Texas — In U.S. District Court on Friday, The University of Texas at Austin laid out its strong support of free speech, which is essential to its mission as a public institution of higher education.

Speaking before U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, lawyers for the university described how it robustly protects every student’s fundamental right to free speech and fosters open debate and dialogue on campus.

The university’s support for free speech starts with the opening sentence of its rules on freedom of expression: “The freedoms of speech, expression, and assembly are fundamental rights of all persons and are central to the mission of the University.”

UT has repeatedly backed up those words with actions in defense of free speech, often in the face of criticism from those who would want to curtail the robust nature of free expression on a university campus.

Speech First – a group formed to attack university policies – brought a lawsuit against the university last year, claiming that UT policies chill student speech. In their filing, Speech First selectively quoted from various university policies but ignored numerous policy provisions that demonstrate the university’s commitment to free speech.

In that filing, lawyers for Speech First similarly mischaracterized the university’s strong actions supporting free speech in several high-profile incidents.

In documents cited by the university’s lawyers in Friday’s court hearing, UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves expressed his “total and complete commitment to freedom of speech, assembly, and expression,” which he has repeatedly cited as critical to the exchange of ideas that must happen at a university.

Documents from the university’s legal filing and arguments presented Friday are available in a Box folder on the university website.