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Administration says USF is already in compliance with governor’s free-speech policy

President Judy Genshaft signed a free-speech expression statement along with 12 other state university presidents last week. ORACLE FILE PHOTO

USF President Judy Genshaft, along with 12 other Florida university presidents, signed the “state university system free expression statement” on April 15.

This policy states that full and open discourse will be made accessible for all 12 public postsecondary institutions in the state.

The statement was issued after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) delivered a speech at FSU about the importance of upholding all forms of speech on campus, specifically conservative viewpoints.   

“We are showing that we welcome debate and the exchange of ideas,” DeSantis said in his speech last Monday. “Our state’s higher learning institutions can lead the way in promoting open discussion and civil discourse.”

DeSantis’ resolution was prompted after President Donald Trump signed an executive order about free speech last month.

Trump also stated that universities that do not comply with the policy could be at risk of losing federal grants.

However, USF should not be at risk because Dean of Students Danielle McDonald said USF is already in compliance with these regulations.

“Any speaker could be controversial,” McDonald said. “USF student organizations have brought speakers to campus with very diverse viewpoints.”

The USF system created an “events, signage and space management” policy in 2017 — which was amended last year — to determine its open space regulations.

“USF has consistently adopted and upheld policies that ensure free speech on campus,” McDonald said.

The policy allows open space on campus to be available to the public as long as it is not connected to a specific use. Outdoor areas may be used for “informal, unscheduled and unamplified expression of opinion … ”

The speaker must still abide by the university policies and regulations when on USF property. If the speaker fails to adhere, consequences may include being issued a “no-trespass warning,” banned from the property or given a fine.

If a situation arises where a “controversial” speaker was causing a disturbance on campus, McDonald said it would be “handled on an individual basis to ensure the safety of the campus.”

Given the state policy, McDonald said she believes USF students should be exposed to an assortment of opinions and ideas.

“I do think that it is important for students to have the opportunity to hear different ideas and to have the ability to challenge those ideas and decide for themselves what they believe about those ideas,” McDonald said.