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The University of Florida Points to its Code of Conduct to Restrict Student Protests

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Nov 14, 2022 | 0 Comments

Mounting data suggests that only a minority of college students believe that their freedom of speech rights are secure on their campuses. According to a study by the Knight Foundation, the percentage of university students who felt confident in their rights declined from 73 percent in 2016 to just 47 percent in 2021. Students at the University of Florida may be losing faith in their school's commitment to free speech now, too.

On October 24, 2022, the school's President, Kent Fuchs, issued a message informing students that the university was planning to enforce “regulations” banning protests inside campus buildings. Although Kent clarified that these regulations had been “on the books for at least two decades,” the admonishment was delivered before the contested Board of Trustees meeting scheduled for November 1, 2022. At the meeting, the board planned to consider Republican U.S. Senator Ben Sasse for the position of university president. A few weeks earlier, Senator Sasse had participated in a Q&A forum on the school's campus which was disrupted by campus protestors chanting “hey hey, ho ho. Ben Sasse has got to go.” Kent's warning to UF students was clear: Protest like this again and face campus code of conduct violations.

When Freedom of Speech Rights Collide with A School's Code of Conduct

The situation at the University of Florida represents the conjunction between freedom of speech actions and code of conduct violations on college campuses. Free speech at public universities is one of the most important rights given to students. However, there are limitations on free speech in place at every university for students. Most universities have codes of conduct outlining what type of speech is acceptable and what kind may violate these rules. For example, the University of Florida's Code of Student Conduct limits student conduct that is “disruptive” in nature. The code partly defines disruptive conduct as conduct that is “substantially disruptive to the normal operations of the university.” The code further prohibits disruptions of university activity or “interference with the rights of others to carry out their activities or duties at or on behalf of the school.” Even though students at Sasse's Q&A protested to express their political views, they violated the school's code of conduct.

Colleges, especially private ones, can restrict some first amendment rights as long as these regulations are clearly stated in the code of conduct or handbook for students. In addition, colleges have disciplinary boards made up of administrators whose sole purpose is to enforce the rules outlined by colleges. Students who breach code of conduct regulations usually face suspension or expulsion. Although appeals boards exist at each institution, they can be more concerned about the school's reputation or alumni base than the specific circumstances at play in a student's appeal. Code of conduct violations can have long-lasting and damaging effects on a student's record, impacting their ability to graduate, apply to graduate school, and further their career. In these circumstances, it is important to seek the help of a qualified student defense attorney who can work with the school at the administrative level.

Speak With a Nationwide Attorney-Advisor

If you face code of conduct violations for protesting on campus, attorney Joseph D. Lento can help. Attorney Lento has spent years assisting students nationwide in code of conduct matters. Attorney Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm will work to protect your rights. Contact the Lento Law Firm by calling 888-535-3686 or contact us online.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients nationwide. Attorney Lento and his team represent students and others in disciplinary cases and various other proceedings at colleges and universities across the United States. Attorney Lento has helped countless students, professors, and others in academia at more than a thousand colleges and universities across the United States, and when necessary, he and his team have sought justice on behalf of clients in courts across the nation. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide, and he can help you or your student address any school-related issue or concern anywhere in the United States.

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