Speech and Expression Policy


I. General Policy

II. Implementing Guidelines for Students at GU-Q

III. Marketing Guidelines

IV. Speech and Expression Committee

V. Violations of the Speech and Expression Policy

VI. Speech and Expression Committee Opinions


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 superseded 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

I. General Policy

As an institution of higher education, one specifically committed to the Catholic and Jesuit tradition, Georgetown University is committed to free and open inquiry, deliberation and debate in all matters, and the untrammeled verbal and nonverbal expression of ideas. It is Georgetown University’s policy to provide all members of the University community, including faculty, students, and staff, the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.

The ideas of different members of the University community will often and naturally conflict. It is not the proper role of a University to insulate individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Deliberation or debate may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or ill conceived.

It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to judge the value of ideas, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting those arguments and ideas that they oppose. Fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage with each other in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.

The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. The University prohibits expression that violates the law, falsely defames a specific individual, constitutes a genuine threat, violates the University’s Harassment Policy, or unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests. In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the institution. Finally, to the extent that appointment letters, confidentiality agreements or policies, professional conduct policies, or HR policies regulate conduct that may include speech and expression, they are not superseded by this policy. But these are narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression, and it is vitally important that these exceptions not be used in a manner that is inconsistent with the University’s commitment to a free and open discussion of ideas.

As a corollary to the University’s commitment to protect and promote free expression, members of the University community must also act in conformity with the principle of free expression. Although members of the University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed by other members of the community, or by individuals who are invited to campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe. To this end, the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of deliberation and debate, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.

In 1990 Ernest Boyer, President of Carnegie Foundation wrote, “[A] university is an open community, a place where freedom of expression is uncompromisingly protected, and where civility is powerfully affirmed.” Because it is essential to free and open inquiry, deliberation, and debate, all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining civil and respectful discourse.  But concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off the discussion of ideas, no matter how offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.

II. Implementing Guidelines for Students at GU-Q

The following guidelines implement the foregoing propositions:

A. Event Sponsorship 

Any student organization at GU-Q with access to benefits may petition the Office of Student Life for approval to stage the event.  Events that require funding and have received the approval of the Office of Student Life may petition the Student Activities Committee (SAC) for funding. 

Individual students who wish to sponsor an event may approach the Director of Student Life.

B. Events

University spaces are places of dialogue and free exchange for the Georgetown University community.  The University will try to accommodate equally all students or student groups who have received authorization for an event or meeting exclusively for the Georgetown community in a classroom space, subject to availability.  This policy does not pertain to commercial activities or gatherings or use of classrooms; commercial activity – the conducting of any business for exchange of goods and services for money or personal financial gain – is not permitted in Georgetown University classrooms.  This policy does not pertain to external organizations.

Requests to host external groups or speakers in university classrooms are subject to review and consideration by the Office of Student Life.  External groups are not permitted to use university classrooms without sponsorship by a university department or organization with access to benefits. 

The individual GU-Q student, department, or organization must reserve the place where it will occur, in accordance with registration requirements. However, certain areas of campus shall be considered “public squares” and shall be available, without prior arrangement, for individuals and groups during daylight hours for the purpose of exchanging ideas.  These areas are: the Student Lounge on the 1st floor of the building and Red Square, which is adjacent to the Atrium.   Because of the proximity of these spaces to classroom and business activities, sound amplification in conjunction with any presentation is prohibited during business and classroom hours.

C. 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.  All event hosts should incorporate a method to allow event attendees to request reasonable accommodations in order to make the event accessible.    This should be included as a statement of accommodation request in all material marketing and advertising an event.  The notification should read:

“Accommodation requests related to a disability should be made by [specific date] to [sponsoring department contact person, phone number and email address].  A good faith effort will be made to fulfill requests made after [date].”

D. Expression of Opposing Viewpoints 

An individual or group has the right to express opposing viewpoints consistent with this policy.   However, the speaker’s right to free speech and the audience’s right to see and to hear a speaker must not be violated. .

Expressive activities planned and executed with the intention of protesting an event, policy or other concept can take place provided they do not violate the law or university policies, disrupt university business, or curtail the free speech rights of others.

E. Literature and Publicity

Georgetown University in Qatar encourages the community to promote events and activities responsibly through a full range of available media.  Certain information and communication channels are open to any individual member of the university community, such as flyering on designated bulletin boards in Red Square  tabling in Red Square, purchasing or requesting advertising in campus media, and using any variety of public social media platforms.   Certain information and marketing channels are deemed official university resources and are available only to organizations with Access to Benefits or University departments.  These channels include reserved tables in designated campus locations, university broadcast messages, and electronic message and display systems.,

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.

F. GU-Q Red Square

The Red Square is a point of pride on our campuses in Washington and Doha. It is a space where students advertise events, causes, and organizations that matter to them. It provides the students with the ability to promote their causes through meaningful, respectful and engaging dialogue between members of the student community.Though this Speech and Expression Policy applies to the whole of the GU-Q Building, Red Square is a space that does not require reservation from the Events team in order to table and assemble.  Student members of the GU-Q community – individual students, unofficial student organizations, and official student organizations with access to benefits, may use this space in accordance with the rules outlined below.

Please be reminded that in both Red Square and the rest of GU-Q, the University prohibits expression that violates the law (Qatari or U.S.), falsely defames a specific individual, constitutes a genuine threat, violates the University’s Harassment Policy, or unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests.General Rules for Use of Red Square1. This room is restricted for the use of GU-Q students2. As this is a university premise, the Student Code of Conduct and the University’s Harassment Policy are applicable.3. Students are responsible for keeping the Red Square clean. Students are expected to clean up after themselves, including throwing away trash into bins and returning their lunch trays.4. Students are reminded about the principle of taking ownership and personal responsibility over their activities within this space.Red Square Tabling Policy1. Students are encouraged to reserve an “Advocacy Table” for an event or a cause.2. Those tabling are also reminded to be aware of Qatari laws and that speech that violates the University’s Harassment Policy is not tolerated.3. Tables must be cleared when the last student staffing it leaves.4. Tables may be reserved on a first come, first serve basis.5. Tabling outside of Red Square, e.g., in other parts of the Atrium or in the rest of the GU-Q building, requires the permission of the Office of Student Life.Red Square Poster Policy1. Posters advertising SAC approved events and organizations can be posted by following the standard procedures for postering in the GU-Q building (i.e., they will need to be approved and stamped by the Office of Communications). 

2. Non SAC-approved posters may also be posted in Red Square.  As with any other form of expression, content on posters may not violate the laws of Qatar or the US, falsely defame a specific individual, constitute a genuine threat, violate the University’s Harassment Policy, or unjustifiably invade substantial privacy or confidentiality interests.

3. Posters may not be placed on the glass wall and sliding door facing the atrium or the wood-paneled walls inside of Red Square. 

4. In order to ensure access to all students, posters must be no larger than a standard A3 sheet of paper and must not cover other posters.

5. Existing posters may not be removed by any member of the GU-Q community except officials from the Office of Student Life.  If any member of the community suspects that a poster is violating one of the above stated rules, such concerns should be reported to the Office of Student Life as soon as possible.

6. All posters will be removed on the 15th and 30th of each month (or closest workday) by the Student Life staff, unless related to an upcoming event.  All posters will be cleared on the last day of classes each semester.

III. Marketing Guidelines

A. Interior Flyers  

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.

Interior bulletin boards in the Georgetown building may be used to advertise events for student organizations once the organization has received approval from Student Life for the event and the poster.  Posters and flyers placed on campus inside buildings must be in compliance with the following guidelines: Student organizations 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.

Posters for student events must be approved by the Office of Student Life and the Office of Communications before posting

Only designated bulletin boards may be used to advertise events.  Posting on walls, windows, doors, tables, benches or other furniture in the building is not permitted.

If posting in inappropriate locations results in damage to University property, the individual or organization sponsoring the event may be held responsible.

B. Campus Media

All campus media groups fall within the free speech protections offered by the Speech and Expression Policy. Georgetown University does not engage in any pre-production editorial review of any campus media outlet.  As with other forms of expression, media content may not violate the laws of Qatar or the U.S., falsely defame a specific individual, constitute a genuine threat, violate the University’s Harassment Policy, or unjustifiably invade substantial privacy or confidentiality interests.

C. Email

Student clubs and organizations may maintain email distribution lists for the purpose of communicating with members of the club or organization.  Such email distribution lists should include a mechanism for individuals to opt out of distribution.  Student organizations with access to University benefits can use official Broadcast email channels, such as GUQConnect.

D. Tabling

Tabling is a method of expressing a viewpoint by setting up a table or other physical structure such as a sign or pop-up tent in a public space to distribute or display materials.   Tabling activities must comply with all other relevant university policies, for example prohibitions on disrupting classes or using amplified sound during business hours.   In the GU-Q Building, tabling is permitted in Red Square, and, with the permission of Student Life, in the Atrium.

E. Handbills, Pamphlets, Flyers and Quarter-Sheers

Handbills, pamphlets, flyers and quarter-sheets 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.

IV. Speech and Expression Committee

The Senior Associate Dean for Students has the responsibility for administering these implementing guidelines. Only in extreme cases of violation of these guidelines can the Senior Associate Dean for Students prohibit speech and expression before it occurs. In administering these guidelines, the Senior Associate Dean for Students shall be advised by a GU-Q Committee on Speech and Expression, composed of two students, two faculty members, and two senior staff members.  The Senior Associate Dean for Students 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. Committee members will also hear appeals regarding the enforcement of this policy.

A. Appointments to the Committee

Student appointments to the committee are annual, beginning in the Fall of the academic year and made on the basis of a competitive application process.  Applications will be reviewed and appointments made by the incumbent committee at the end of the spring semester.  Faculty appointments to the committee will be made by the Chair of the GU-Q Faculty. Staff appointments will be made by the Senior Associate Dean for Students in consultation with the Dean of GU-Q.

B. Correspondence

Concerns related to free speech and expression can be reported to guqspeech@georgetown.edu A response will be made within two business days of receiving the email.  The committee, in consultation with the Senior Associate Dean for Students, will review complaints and refer incidents and individuals to appropriate offices for follow up and response. The committee may also issue opinions or provide recommendations in the interest of upholding these principles and ensuring university practices are aligned with this policy.  

C. Training

Training on the management of speech and expression issues for university departments, student organizations and other relevant groups hosting events will be available by the Office of Student Life in collaboration with other departments on campus. 

V. Violations of the Speech and Expression Policy

Violations of the policy and/or guidelines by students will be handled through the disciplinary system administered through the GU-Q Office of Student Conduct.  It is a violation of this policy to curtail the free speech rights of others.  Actions that violate this policy include disrupting events to prohibit other students from hearing the views of an invited speaker, removing flyers or other materials, or otherwise limiting another’s ability to express a view or perspective. 

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

VI. Speech and Expression Committee Opinions

The GU-Q Speech and Expression Committee hears complaints from members of the Georgetown community regarding issues of free speech and expression.  The Committee issues opinions regarding these complaints which may serve to illuminate the nature of the issues at stake with these concerns, and offer guidance for practical follow up and policy clarification.