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Freedom of Speech & UT Austin’s FIRE Rating

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UT strongly values and protects free speech, and all students, faculty and staff have the right of free speech and expression on the UT Austin campus.  As stated in the university’s Handbook of Operating Procedures:

“The freedoms of speech, expression, and assembly are fundamental rights of all persons and are central to the mission of the University.… [S]tudents, faculty members, staff members, and members of the public … have the right to assemble, to speak, and to attempt to attract the attention of others, and corresponding rights to hear the speech of others when they choose to listen, and to ignore the speech of others when they choose not to listen.”

UT Austin’s FIRE Rating

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) gives UT Austin green ratings (its highest mark) for the university’s three core policies on freedom of expression, yellow (medium) ratings for six other policies including one that is being discontinued, and one red (lowest) rating for a policy on sexual misconduct and harassment.

Because FIRE gives a red rating overall if just one of an institution’s policies has a red rating, the university gets an overall red rating based entirely on the sexual misconduct and harassment policy, the only one of its 10 policies that is not green or yellow.

FIRE rates UT Austin green, its highest mark, for UT’s two policies on “Speech, Expression, and Assembly” and our “Institutional Rules on Student Services and Activities: Student Discipline and Conduct.” These are core policies for how a university approaches freedom of expression.

As of Dec. 1, 2020, FIRE rated six of UT Austin policies yellow (medium), including the university’s policy on Hate and Bias Incidents, which is being eliminated effective immediately as part of a lawsuit settlement with the organization Speech First. With the settlement, the university also agreed to disband the Campus Climate Response Team, which was related to this yellow policy.

UT Austin’s one red light with FIRE stems from its policy on “sex discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, interpersonal violence, and stalking.” FIRE objects to the wording of this policy. The wording of the policy is posted online in the UT Austin Handbook of Operating Procedures and on the FIRE page for UT Austin.

University Messages

Free Speech Week at UT — Letter from President Jay Hartzell, Oct. 6, 2020

Related policies

UT Austin Experts

David M. Rabban, School of Law

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