Initially approved: June 6, 2023
Policy Topic: Governance and Administration
Administering Offices: Administration and Finance; Legal Counsel’s Office; and Student Affairs
Recognizing that its support derives in large part from public funds, Western Carolina University (the “University”) is committed to making its facilities and grounds available for use by all groups, consistent with its educational mission, its duties as a custodian of State resources, applicable state and federal law, and its responsibility to consider the safety and welfare of its students, faculty, staff, and visitors. The University strives to uphold the freedoms of expression and speech guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and N.C. Constitution. Free speech is central to the University’s academic mission and it encourages and supports open, vigorous, and civil debate. While the University wishes to be accessible to the public, the University has the right under appropriate circumstances to regulate the time, place, and manner of exercising constitutionally protected rights and to use its own facilities in accordance with the University’s business needs. The purpose of this Policy is to place reasonable limitations on assemblies and public addresses and political activities so that the University may fulfill its primary mission of education and ensure the safety and welfare of the campus community.
“Assemblies and Public Addresses” are meetings or gatherings organized for an intended purpose. Public Addresses also may involve speeches to a group of individuals in a structured, deliberate manner intended to inform, influence, or entertain the listeners.
“Affiliated Group” means a group or entity that is directly or indirectly controlled by, controlling or under common control with the University. It includes University Groups and Recognized Student Organizations.
“Non-Affiliated Group” is an individual or group that is a legally separate entity from the University, even though some of the members or participants may be University personnel, alumni, or students.
“Nonpartisan Programs and Events” are events where there is no political preference expressed, or if political preference is expressed, all sides get a fair and equal opportunity to express their views. Examples include, but are not limited to, voter registration activities; a debate where each “side” has the same opportunity to speak and to respond to questions; get-out-the-vote activities that are designed to encourage and support all WCU community members to vote, regardless of their political affiliation or beliefs; candidates appearing on campus in their role as a public officeholder, not as a political candidate.
“Partisan Programs and Events” are campaign rallies, speeches, and other events designed to support one candidate or party over another. Examples include, but are not limited to, events or activities sponsored by a political campaign office; a forum or town hall event designed to convince persons to vote a specific way or for a specific candidate; direct contact to solicit votes, identify supporters, or influence persons to vote a specific way on a candidate, platform, party or issue (i.e., canvassing).
All groups and individuals shall comply with the following requirements regardless of the space used or event held:
A. Use of Exterior Spaces
B. Use of Interior Spaces. Any individual or group desiring to use any interior space on campus must comply with University Policy #82, Facilities Use Policy, University Policy #65, Space Management, University Policy #110, Conferences and Events, and any other facility-specific facilities use policy (e.g., Ramsey Regional Activity Center policy). Assemblies and Public Addresses will generally be scheduled and/or coordinated by the Office of Conference Services in the Division of Student Affairs.
Students, staff, and faculty shall be permitted to assemble and engage in spontaneous expressive activity as long as such activity is lawful and does not materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the constituent institution, subject to State law and the requirements of this Policy. For faculty and staff, participation in assemblies and engagement in spontaneous expressive activity may be conducted only at times when the activity does not interfere with University employment obligations. In exercising these rights, neither an employee’s position nor University resources can be used.
The material and substantial disruption of an individual or group’s lawful exercise of speech or expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment is prohibited. A “material and substantial disruption” includes, but is not limited to, any or all of the following:
The right to dissent is the complement of the right to participate in expressive activity, but these rights need not occupy the same forum at the same time. Actions that may give rise to a material and substantial disruption include protests and demonstrations that materially infringe upon the rights of others to engage in and listen to expressive activity when the expressive activity (1) has been scheduled pursuant to this Policy or other relevant institutional policy, and (2) is located in a nonpublic forum.
In determining whether an action is a material and substantial disruption, WCU will consider the degree to which the disruptive activity impedes access to or from any scheduled institution events or the degree to which the activity impedes an audience’s ability to see and hear the expressive activity. Other activities that may materially and substantially interfere with the institution’s missions include disrupting the classroom environment, laboratory or research environments, patient care environments, or blocking the flow of pedestrian traffic. Anyone who substantially interferes with acceptable forms of dissent is also considered in violation of this policy in the same way as a dissenter who violates the rights of the speaker or the audience. See Section V. of University Policy 133, Free Speech and Free Expression, for a list of activities not protected by the First Amendment or State or federal law.
Students who materially or substantially disrupt the functioning of the University or who substantially interfere with the protected free expression rights of others in violation of this Policy shall be subject to the WCU Code of Student Conduct. Faculty or staff who materially or substantially disrupt the functioning of the University or who substantially interfere with the protected free expression rights of others in violation of this Policy shall be subject to disciplinary action according to the appropriate disciplinary procedures for misconduct, including suspension, or, as appropriate, dismissal. Anyone under the jurisdiction of the University who is involved in Expressive Speech or Conduct Disciplinary Cases in violation of this Policy shall be entitled to procedural protections provided by the WCU Student Code of Conduct or relevant faculty and staff disciplinary and grievance policies.
The University, while being nonpartisan, recognizes that political discussion is an important part of the educational process. Political candidates may be invited to appear on campus by affiliated groups that have reserved space in accordance with University Policy 65, Space Management, University Policy 82, Facilities Use Policy, and University Policy 110, Conferences and Events. The Director of External Affairs shall be notified of such an appearance. The Director of External Affairs may assist the facility coordinator and the affiliated group in conducting the event; however, the event remains that of the affiliated group. The event may include the service of refreshments as long as refreshments are provided through the University's food service contractor. Political candidates may also use outdoor facilities without invitation from an affiliated group as long as the use is in accordance with this Policy and Policy 82. However, political fundraising events are not allowed on campus. No fundraising may take place in connection with a partisan political event. Partisan events may be sponsored by recognized student organizations if the costs associated with the partisan event are paid by the partisan co-sponsor or, to the extent costs are paid by the registered student organization, student fees and other University-provided funds must not be used.
Each member of the University community has the right to express his/her views on any subject, including advocacy for/against political candidates or positions. However, in exercising these rights, neither an employee’s position nor University resources can be used. In addition to employment obligations, reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions apply to all political activity, e.g., complying with applicable University policies for the use of facilities. All postings and displays must comply with North Carolina law, UNC System policy, and University guidance on partisan political activities on campus.
In making its facilities available for use under this policy to individuals or groups other than University administrative units, the University assumes no obligation or responsibility for the activities of the person or group. The University reminds all users to be aware of and comply with applicable laws, including those related to safety, libel, slander, defamation, and obscenity.
This policy shall be reviewed and revised as necessary every two (2) years.
University Policy #65, “Space Management”
University Policy #81, “WCU General Campus Policy for Alcoholic Beverages”
University Policy #82, “Facilities Use Policy”
The UNC Policy Manual 1300.8, “Free Speech and Free Expression Within the University of North Carolina”
 N.C.G.S. § 116-300(4).
 Section 1300.8 of the UNC Policy Manual, Paragraph IV.
 Section 1300.8 of the UNC Policy Manual, Paragraph VII.
 See Section 1300.8 of the UNC Policy Manual, Paragraph VII.A.1.