Frequently Asked Questions on
Freedom of Expression and Speech at NMSU
Q1: As a member of faculty or staff, I see a sign posted on a public bulletin board that is highly offensive to me and I assume would also offend many others. Am I entitled to take it down?
A1: Not unless the sign is obviously not protected by the First Amendment, such as child pornography, defamation or libel, and even then, you should contact the Office of Campus Activities before doing so. Further, when the sign is taken down, it (or a photograph of it) should be sent to the Office of Campus Activities for documentation in case someone challenges your action as a violation by NMSU of free-expression rights. This will also help ensure that someone else in the executive management didn’t give permission for it to be there. Having Campus Activities know about the sign being taken down also provides accountability should there be questions in the future about who took it down, and what the sign actually said or looked like.
Q2: Is posting notices or other information on bulletin boards subject to the policy on affixing?
(e.g. Affixing of notices or banners or other objects to university property is not allowed without appropriate permission from the Office of Campus Activities).
A2: It depends. If the bulletin board is one where posting has traditionally been allowed or that is specifically approved for public posting, then no advance permission need be sought. Boards where posting is restricted to specific purposes may require permission from Campus Activities.
Q3: When am I required to obtain a permit prior to a free expression activity?
A3: Most events and activities do not require any prior approval. However, when your expression or symbolic speech involves nudity, weaponry, fire, or a large crowd, you must first obtain a permit, not with an eye to restricting freedom of expression but from concerns for safety, including the safety of those involved in the free-expression activity.
Q4: Who grants permission, when the policy says approval is needed? Does NMSU grant permission for events at community colleges?
A4: The office of Campus Activities (or other office as may be designated), will coordinate with other NMSU entities as appropriate, consistent with the Procedural Guidelines.
Q5: What is turnaround time for approval by the Office of Campus Activities (e.g. how far in advance do I need to apply for the permit)?
A5: This will depend on the complexity of the event for which the permit is sought. Some requests might be processed quickly. The University will strive to respond within two days, at least to acknowledge receipt and to inform the requestor of the status of the review. The best advice is to start the permit or notification process as far in advance of the planned activity as you can, especially if you are requesting exclusive use of a space, since reservations are granted on a first-come basis.
Q6: If I am participating in a theatre performance with a nude scene, do I have to get a permit?
A6: No. Members of the public should have been put on notice in advance that the performance involves nudity or language that may offend, and there is controlled access to the performance. Some people might object to things others would feel are perfectly acceptable, so it is up to the consumer to make the choice about what they want to pay or go to see.
Q7: I have to use a gun as a prop in my speech class presentation; do I need to do anything before showing up to class with an unloaded handgun?
A7: Use of a firearm as a prop for a class presentation is covered under NMSU Policy 3.50. To the extent that it is intended as an expression of views, carrying of firearms could be restricted or prohibited as a rational, content-neutral safety restriction, which would apply whether the carrying of the gun was meant to promote wild-West history, express support of or opposition to the current interpretations of the Second Amendment, or to advertise a play currently in production on the NMSU campus.
Q8: As a student in the classroom what are my free speech rights?
A8: A classroom is a non-public forum: the professor has charge of the class discussion, but should permit reasonable disagreement with the professor’s views at appropriate times. However, that does not mean, for example, that in a technical class on wiring nuclear weapons you can raise in each class your philosophical objection to such weapons, or that in a class on the history of the Holocaust you can turn every discussion back to your belief that there was no Holocaust. Students may not disrupt the educational process, but may utilize non-disruptive methods of expression like wearing clothing that promotes a particular viewpoint, or wearing a button, badge, or baseball cap expressing your views.
Q9: As a student walking to class inside in a hallway, I see several people walking around with signs and handing out fliers. Is that ok under this policy?
A9: Yes, that is acceptable as long as it doesn’t cause significant disruption to those trying to use the hallway and they are not forcing people to take the fliers. A hallway is a common area, and would be defined as a limited public forum (purpose is to carry traffic flow from one classroom to another), so any limitation of free speech would need to be consistent with that purpose and be content-neutral.
Q10: What are examples of public forums?
A10: Public forums are those areas that are traditionally open to the public. These include parks, sidewalks, and lobbies. The university may also designate areas as public forums, to include bulletin boards.
Q11: What are some examples of limited public forums?
A11: Limited public forums are areas open to the public or a segment of the public (e.g. purchase of admission) but where there is a specific purpose. Examples could include a football game or tennis match, band practice, or a symposium on police shootings to which students and the general public are invited. Limitations on expression in these venues should be content neutral and narrowly tailored to allow the event or activity to continue and achieve its intended purpose without unduly restricting expression. Limitations must be aimed at reducing or preventing measurable and definite interruption or disruption to the intended purpose or protect other compelling university interest (public safety).
Q12: What are examples of non-public forums?
A12: Non-public forums are areas not open to the general public and where expression may be reasonably limited in a content neutral fashion, to that compatible with the purpose and nature of the location/activity. Faculty and administrative offices, classrooms, residence hall rooms, or a rare-book room in the library are examples of non-public forums.
Q13: Would it violate this policy if a loud preacher were to set up inside Corbett, inside the library, or inside the football stadium during a game?
A13: It depends. The policy has expanded the geographical areas where freedom of expression is permitted.
If the preacher is not using electronic amplification, then as long as he is not disrupting or interfering with university functions or activities, it would not violate the policy. Conversely, if the preacher is creating definite and measurable interruption to the intended activity for the area, as would most likely happen in a library, then it would violate policy. Each case will be decided individually based on the circumstances presented. Objections that seem to have been exaggerated by people merely because they disagree with him should be disfavored.
Q14: Suppose I object to what’s going on in an auditorium or theater or athletic field and wish to stand quietly against the wall, holding a sign stating my opinion. Would this policy permit me to do so?
A14: The answer would depend on many factors, including what type of forum it is, the nature of the event, and what constitutes disruption at that type of event.
At a football game, so long as you were not obstructing anyone’s view or movement, or otherwise disrupting the activities associated with the football game, your conduct would not violate the policy.
At a speech or debate, it would likely compatible with the policy, although you might be restricted to certain areas.
Theater or dance performances are different from athletic contests, and what constitutes a disruption in a theatre may not be disruptive at an athletic event or speech. With a theatrical production, it would depend on where in the theater you wished to stand. If you stood in the lobby, in a building where admission to the lobby was permitted without a ticket (or you had purchased a ticket), and you were not otherwise disrupting planned activities, your action would not violate the policy. Standing silently in the back of the theater (but out of the way of patrons who might need to leave) would probably not violate the policy, unless the production were the sort in which aisles and other non-traditional areas are actually used by the actors. Standing in the front would be an obvious disruption, and therefore violate the policy, as would standing by side walls where your presence would distract patrons and/or the actors/dancers.
Q15: The Aggie Pride Band arrives to practice on the horseshoe in front of Hadley Hall, but a large crowd is peacefully assembled on the lawn, sitting protesting something and will not move. What should happen?
A15: Whichever group has a reservation through the Office of Campus Activities will have the right to use the facility. If neither group has a reservation, then the issue should be decided on a first come first serve basis.
Q16: If someone is soliciting signatures to support a political campaign during a Commencement or Convocation ceremony, is that permissible under this policy?
A16: Yes, as long as they do not disrupt the ceremony or block egress. Outside the building or in lobbies, hallways, or public walkways, it would appear permissible, but it would be difficult to do in seating areas without causing some disruption.
Q17: Does this freedom of expression policy extend to all the properties owned by the University but leased by other entities?
A17: It depends on the conditions of the lease, and whether NMSU maintains operational control over the property.
Q18: I understand how different parts of a building can have various forum-designations, such as non-public for offices or public for a foyer. But how can the type of forum associated with a specific building or a specific room change? Why can’t the rooms just be designated public, limited-public, or non-public forum and remain that?
A18: The designation changes because the activity (ies) in that location change. For example, just as a restaurant might be closed for a private party or a street closed for a farmers’ market or parade, rooms and buildings are used in various ways. Examples may help: If Room 201B is used for math lectures all morning, then is open for students to congregate drinking coffee during the afternoon, it would be inappropriate to restrict afternoon conversations in the same fashion as during a math lecture – or to allow afternoon-style free conversation flow during a math professor’s lectures; an outdoor area might sometimes be used for small concerts or poetry readings, but be used at other times for loud preaching or political advocacy; or a given classroom might house chemistry lectures by day and public meetings in the evening.
Q19: I am interested in promoting or encouraging freedom of expression. What are my options?
A19: Lots of options exist, only some of which are mentioned here: You could sponsor an event that discusses freedom of expression in general, or a specific controversial topic. You could create a website or publication where people can express their views about various topics of public interest. You could initiate projects like a “wall of expression” where people are free to go and put up materials about various items of public interest. You could approach NMSU concerning possible donation of funds for anything from a special discussion area to a few more bulletin boards available for opinions or notices. If you are a student, you could form or join a student group affiliated in some way with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) or New Mexicans for Open Government (NMFOG), two organizations which promote Constitutional freedoms and openness in government, or volunteer your time to these or similar entities. You could arrange for a speaker from such a group or other expert to present on the topic on free speech.