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President Taylor Randall: Preserving freedom of expression within the confines of the law is good for all

By University of Utah President Taylor Randall:

Throughout our nation’s history, college campuses have been a focal point for deep societal divisions and unrest. Our state’s flagship institution is no exception. On April 29, 2024, approximately 300 protesters at the University of Utah expressed outrage for the devastation suffered by the Palestinian people. The people of Utah deserve an explanation of the university’s actions this past week on this complex and evolving situation.

To be clear, the University of Utah will not take a side in the current Israel-Hamas war. Public institutions in Utah are precluded by policy from doing so. Principled neutrality helps foster respect and diverse viewpoints on our campus. But I will explain the way the University of Utah managed the right to free expression within the confines of the law, the difference between divestiture at a public and private university, and the role of a university and its faculty during divisive moments in history.

I also want to give voice to the pain and anger many of our students, faculty, staff and the people of Utah feel as they observe the destruction and human suffering in Israel and Gaza. The death and destruction invoke outrage and pain. History teaches us the horror of genocide. We live in troubled times that demand our very best to relieve this suffering.

Balancing priorities and tensions

As I made decisions this past week about how to protect freedom of expression within the confines of the law, two principles weighed heavily on my mind.

First, the University of Utah does more than honor free expression — we celebrate it. Unfettered intellectual inquiry and the exchange of ideas and knowledge are the bedrock of our institution. Protests are an important form of speech and help society progress. Look no further than protests relating to civil rights and global conflicts throughout our history. Peaceful protests have a sacred and cherished place in American history and at the University of Utah.

Second, every right comes with a responsibility. The First Amendment, State of Utah Administrative Code and the University of Utah Speech Policy define reasonable limits to speech. At the University of Utah, students, faculty and others do not have the right to set up structures or camp overnight without a permit or to unlawfully occupy or trespass on University of Utah property. State of Utah administrative code (Rule R805-3) makes exceptions for camping at ticketing events and tailgating.

Read the rest of the article in the Deseret News.