Speech and Expression Policy


In January 1989, the following guidelines on speech and expression for the Main Campus of Georgetown University were implemented. They were developed by the Committee on Speech and Expression and presented to the University community after widespread consultation with faculty, students and administrators. The Committee on Speech and Expression, composed of four faculty members and four undergraduate students, is a standing committee that advises the Vice President for Student Affairs on matters relating to speech and expression. The Vice President for Student Affairs is responsible for administering these guidelines.

The policy guiding speech and expression is intended to ensure the "untrammeled expression of ideas and information." Reverend James Walsh, S.J., wrote the following statement to provide an appropriate context for understanding the policy:

“The following policy on free speech and expression derives from a certain understanding of what a university is and of what Georgetown University is. I will attempt to articulate that understanding.

  1. The nature of a university. A university is many things but central to its being is discourse, discussion, debate: the untrammeled expression of ideas and information. This discourse is carried on communally: we all speak and we all listen. Ideally, discourse is open and candid and also-ideally-is characterized by courtesy, mutual reverence and even charity.
  2. The university teaches by being what it is. What the university takes seriously as an institution imparts (to its students especially but not exclusively) important lessons. The fundamental lesson it imparts-just by being what it is-has to do with the nature of the intellectual life. Rigor of thought and care in research; the willingness to address any question whatever; the habit of self-critical awareness of one's own biases and presupposition; reverence for fellow members of the university community and openness to their ideas, which is reductively a concern for the truth itself-the list could be prolonged. These habits of mind and attitude have a powerfully shaping influence on all members of the academic community. A university that sends contrary "signals" to any of its members (as, obviously, by tolerating plagiarism, violence, intellectual shoddiness, or any sort of special pleading in the interest of ideology or vested interest) betrays its mission.
  3. "Free speech" is central to the life of the university. The category "free speech" suggests another realm of life and argument, that of American constitutional law. Indeed, members of a university community exercise "dual citizenship": we are academics and we are Americans. The rights and obligations that flow from our participation in each of the two orders--academic and constitutional--are not reducible to those of either one, nor superceded by one or the other, but neither are they in conflict. At the same time, the body of legal principles elaborated from the First Amendment is usefully applied to particular problems. For example, "free speech", in the constitutional sense, may be limited by, and only by, reasonable and non discriminatory considerations of "time, place and manner." These legal categories are most helpful in resolving the problem of how to reconcile the absolute openness of expression proper to a university with other considerations: numbers of people, multiplicity of activities, scheduling, space available and so on. The long and short of the matter is that "time, place and manner" are the only norms allowable in governing the expression of ideas and sharing of information that is the very life of the university.
  4. More is better. Discourse is central to the life of the university. To forbid or limit discourse contradicts everything the university stands for. This conviction proceeds from several assumptions. Besides those sketched above, there is the assumption that the exchange of ideas will lead to clarity, mutual understanding, the tempering of harsh and extreme positions, the softening of hardened positions and ultimately the attainment of truth. Some ideas, simply by being expressed, sink without a trace; others cry out for the intervention of reflection, contrary evidence, probing questions. None of that happens when one cuts off discourse. John Henry Newman's formulation applies here: "flagrant evils cure themselves by being flagrant." The remedy for silly or extreme or offensive ideas is not less free speech but more.
  5. The tradition of Georgetown University demands that we live up to these ideals. In this whole question, matters of history and of convictions central to the Catholic and Jesuit tradition come into play. The historical precedent of the medieval Catholic university, with its lively practice of the "disputation," and its role in the formulation, clarification and development of doctrine, the Catholic teaching that between faith and reason there can be no fundamental conflict, the Catholic teaching about the autonomy of reason, certain Jesuit principles about putting the most favorable construction on your neighbor's argument and especially about reverence for conscience; the vision of our founder, John Carroll, of a "…general and equal toleration, . . . giving a free circulation to fair argument," and of an Academy that would be the "first in character & merit in America"-these and many other fundamentals of the tradition in which Georgetown stands prohibit any limitation upon discourse. Georgetown's identification with the Catholic and Jesuit tradition, far from limiting or compromising the ideal of free discourse, requires that we live up to that ideal.
  6. Violation of these principles, by whatever parties, must have consequences. This is a corollary of the principles themselves and necessary to vindicate the nature of the University itself. The offenses envisioned in the following policy amount to cutting off discourse. Making it impossible for others to speak or be heard or seen, or in any way obstructing the free exchange of ideas, is an attack on the core principles the University lives by and may not be tolerated.”

Rev. James Walsh, S.J., Department of Theology


Georgetown University is committed to standards promoting speech and expression that foster the maximum exchange of ideas and opinions. This statement of policy outlines principles that ensure these standards.

First, all members of the Georgetown University academic community, which comprises students, faculty and administrators, enjoy the right to freedom of speech and expression. This freedom includes the right to express points of view on the widest range of public and private concerns and to engage in the robust expression of ideas. The University encourages a balanced approach in all communications and the inclusion of contrary points of view. As is true with the society at large, however, this freedom is subject to reasonable restrictions of time, place and manner, as described herein, although such restrictions shall be applied without discrimination toward the content of the view being expressed or the speaker.

  1. The right of free speech and expression does not include unlawful activity or activity that endangers or imminently threatens to endanger the safety of any member of the community or any the community’s physical facilities, or any activity that disrupts or obstructs the functions of the University or imminently threatens such disruption or obstruction.
  2. Moreover, expression that is indecent or is grossly obscene or grossly offensive on matters such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation is inappropriate in a university community and the University will act as it deems appropriate to educate students violating this principle.

Obviously and in all events, the use of the University forum shall not imply acceptance or endorsement by the University of the views expressed.


The following guidelines implement the foregoing propositions:

  1. Events - An individual member or group of members of the academic community may invite any person to address the community. For purposes of this document, an event is any public meeting organized by such an individual or group primarily for the dissemination or exchange of ideas. "Public meeting" shall not be construed to include formal academic convocations, regularly scheduled classes, or regular business meetings of University organizations.

    The individual or group hosting such an event must reserve the place where it will occur, in accordance with registration requirements. However, the area adjacent to the ICC ("Red Square") and Leavey Lobby (in inclement weather) shall be available, without prior arrangement, for individuals and groups during daylight hours for the purpose of exchanging ideas. Because of the proximity of Red Square to classrooms, sound amplification in conjunction with any presentation in Red Square is prohibited, as is disruption of classes in any other way.

  2. Costs - An individual hosting an event is responsible for all costs (including security if such is deemed necessary by the University administration) associated with the event; no University subsidy will be available unless by prior arrangement. A group hosting an event is also responsible for all costs associated with the event, but a University financial subsidy may be available through the Center for Student Programs to pay a certain proportion of security costs for group-sponsored events. A group is defined as: (a) a continuing student organization, (b) an academic department or any continuing faculty or administrative organization, (c) an ad hoc group established by a petition of twelve signatures of members of the academic community. Petition forms are available in the Center for Student Programs.
  3. Access to Events - Any event that receives financial support or other benefits of any kind from the University must be open to members of the academic community. If seating is expected to be limited, an equitable means of ticket distribution must be approved by the appropriate campus office. Such events ordinarily shall allow for a period of questions from the audience.
  4. Protest of Events - An individual or group wishing to protest at an event may do so as long as any speaker's right to free speech and the audience's right to see and to hear a speaker are not violated
  5. Literature and Publicity - Georgetown University encourages the community to promote their events and activities responsibly through a full range of available media. These information and communication outlets include flyers and posters on bulletin boards, chalk messages on plaza in Red Square, banners, newspaper ads and calendars, Web pages, the University electronic calendar, University radio and television stations, information tables in Red Square and the Leavey Center, and word of mouth.  

    Communication and publicity should be conducted in a manner that is respectful of others' rights to share information and recognizes one's part in the University community. The foremost issue in this policy is the safety and security of the University community and visitors. Georgetown also strives to be environmentally responsible. Many of the restrictions exist to ensure safety and respect for all.


Only members of the Georgetown University academic community may hang posters or distribute handbills and pamphlets. No student organization other than one granted access to University benefits may use Georgetown in its name, or for any other reason except to identify the location of an event.

All posters and flyers placed on campus inside buildings must be in compliance with the following guidelines:

  1. All materials to be posted on campus may be placed only on unenclosed public bulletin boards or kiosks. People may place only one flyer/poster per bulletin board to allow for ease of reading and to give others equal opportunity to post. Flyers/posters should never be hung where they cover up any previously posted current materials. Departmental bulletin boards are not intended for public announcements and may be used only by the appropriate department or school.
  2. Due to the distinct nature of some locations, specific requirements are posted at those sites.
  3. If posting in inappropriate locations results in damage to University property, restitution will be required from the responsible party.
  4. Interior bulletin boards exist in the following Main Campus locations: Leavey Center, Intercultural Center, Reiss Science Building, Walsh, New North, and Old North. Residence halls also provide bulletin boards for general announcements.
  5. Due to fire and safety codes it is illegal to post flyers in stairwells and on doors.
  1. Flyers and posters may be posted at outdoor locations up to one week before an event. The flyers and posters should be removed immediately following the event.
  2. Materials may be posted only on walls (not windows and doors) and only in designated areas: Red Square (not on walls adjacent to the ICC main entrance), Darnall, New South, Alumni Square, and at the arches of Henle. Flyers and posters should be posted using only masking tape.
  3. Lampposts: Flyers/posters may be placed only within specially defined and designed places on the posts and may not be taped to the lampposts.
  4. Flyers may not be posted on trees, benches, recycling or trash containers, on Healy Gates (or the Gatehouses), or on the pavement (including all sidewalks, streets, Red Square, etc.).
  5. Removal of flyers: Individuals must remove their flyers/posters following an event. Grounds staff will remove all exterior flyers/posters every Monday before 10 a.m.

Chalking is permitted on the brick pavers of Red Square. The chalk must be water-soluble "sidewalk" chalk, which wears away with water or foot traffic. Chalking on the exterior walls of any campus building (academic, administrative or residential) is prohibited.


Banner space exists on the Leavey Center (3 banners) and at Red Square (2 banners). Banner space in Leavey may be reserved by the week through the Student Activity Facilities Office (1507 Leavey). Banner space in Leavey in not reservable. Banners may only be hung in approved locations.


WGTB, the campus radio station, and GUTV, the campus television station, offer opportunities for publicity and promotion including ads, public service announcements, and special interest pieces.


Publicity and promotion can occur by utilizing the campus newspapers through advertisements, stories, and a weekly calendar. The weekly calendar is offered free of charge by the Hoya and the Voice offers free unclassified ads.


Technology offers many underutilized alternatives for communication and publicity. Technology is usually free and reaches a broad audience.

  • Email: If an event has appeal for a specific population (i.e., the members of a student organization, a class), an email listserv may be utilized to promote the event. The email message will reach the people most likely to attend. Mass emails are not acceptable.
  • Web pages: Individuals and groups can create a Web page to promote their events or their group. Web pages can be informative and interactive. For more information on this option, visit uis.georgetown.edu/web.
  • Campus calendar online: Information to be included on the campus calendar and in Today at Georgetown can be submitted to the Information Booth at Healy gates or online.

Handbills and pamphlets may be distributed to any location on campus except classrooms or offices in use. When handbill distribution is associated with a particular event, whether indoor or outdoor, the location of indoor handbill distribution may be restricted on occasion to preserve safety and security at events and convocation, but distribution in these cases may not be wholly prevented or unnecessarily restricted.

This policy and information is designed to assist individuals and groups in the Georgetown University community in effectively sharing information with the rest of campus in respectful and creative ways.


Protestors who are members of the university community will be allowed entrance into any university building unless they are disturbing university activities such as class or office work. They will be able to stay in the building until the building is closed for the day, or until the office or area closes for business that day. Entrance into the building does not mean entrance into any or all offices. The departments of Student Affairs, the Registrar, Protocol and Events, and Public Safety will confer to determine whether a protest may continue.

Protestors may not enter a building if that space has been secured for a speech to be given in that building. For example, the Healy lobby is often used for entrance to speeches in Gaston Hall. In that case, the protestors must remain outside the building in a space previously designated by the Center for Student Programs, the Office of Campus Activity Facilities, the Department of Public Safety and the Office of Protocol and Events. This policy applies to any buildings where a major event or speaker is hosted.

The Vice President for Student Affairs has the responsibility for administering these guidelines. Only in extreme cases of violation of these guidelines can the Vice President prohibit speech and expression before it occurs. In administering these guidelines, the Vice-President shall be advised by a Committee on Speech and Expression, composed of students, faculty and administrators. The Vice President and the Committee may consider and implement revisions and improvements to these guidelines in a manner consistent with the ideals articulated at the beginning of this document.

Disciplinary Procedures - Violations of the policy and/or guidelines by students will be handled through the disciplinary system administered through the Office of Student Conduct. If an administrative action is taken in cases involving the restriction of one's speech and expression, an appeal may be taken to a Hearing Board. That action may be modified or reversed by the Hearing Board for the same reasons as are allowed in the disciplinary system, as well as on grounds that the administrator acted in an unreasonable and arbitrary manner or contrary to this policy governing speech and expression and thus unnecessarily restricted speech and expression on campus.

Nothing herein shall be construed to confer rights on any person not a part of the academic community as defined herein.

The University will make every effort to accommodate groups who wish to schedule an event. Those groups who invite someone to speak on the Main Campus should reserve a space in advance of the event with the appropriate office, in accordance with that office's regulations. Contact the Registrars Office for scheduling classrooms, the G.U. Conference Center for ballrooms and salons in the Leavey Center, and the Office of Campus Activity Facilities for all other space on campus.