The University of Wisconsin-Madison strongly values free speech both in the statement of an idea and in the response to that idea. Generating and exploring innovative ideas and realities requires us to permit multiple perspectives and dynamic discourse. We are committed to freedom of expression and the right to assemble for the purpose of expressing differing opinions or to request certain actions from the University.
This Protest Response Procedures (PRP) is intended to provide general guidance to UW-Madison’s community (students, faculty, staff, families, alumni and our governing bodies) concerning our response to protests and demonstrations consistent with our shared priorities and institutional values. The campus’ 963-acre footprint is host to almost 400 buildings. The Wisconsin Union and certain classroom spaces alone have approximately 44,000 events each year in addition to many others hosted across the campus. Continuity of operations among these facilities is important in setting consistent expectations for expressive activity.
We encourage individuals and groups who plan to use UW-Madison as a site for expressive activity to reach out to the UW-Madison Police Department (UWPD) and/or the UW-Madison Division of Student Affairs (Student Affairs) so we can assist in making your event successful and safe (especially if you believe the event might draw controversy)
UW-Madison’s community (students, faculty, staff, families, alumni and our governing bodies)
UW-Madison endeavors to educate students to become responsible citizens of the world who exercise critical thinking. Our mission calls on us to provide a learning environment in which faculty, staff and students can discover, examine critically, preserve and transmit the knowledge, wisdom and values that will improve the quality of life for all and help future generations thrive. This mission is advanced by ensuring a pursuit of learning and exchange of ideas that extends to every corner of our diverse human experience.
Protecting and promoting freedom of speech and expression is not only a fundamental constitutional right, it is the very bedrock of learning and is central to the University experience. It is vital to our University community that members of the community feel free to express their views, regardless of how unpopular those views may be. But while the First Amendment protects the right to express one’s views, it also allows the University to place reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on that expression. The First Amendment does not guarantee the right to say anything, any time, or in any place. To this end, protests and demonstrations that impede or that disrupt the academic mission, threaten research, interfere with the free speech of others or threaten campus/personal safety will prompt a swift and coordinated response to ensure compliance with UW rules.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s approach to protests and demonstrations will consist of the following:
The University will strive to ensure that there is no confusion about the rights of individuals to express themselves and to assemble lawfully for that purpose. But the more challenging situations arise when protesters decide to violate laws or University regulations. Voluntary compliance with laws or University regulations is the primary objective. The University intends to respond to the violation of such laws or regulations as indicated in this PRP, but we may also employ a range of measures up to and including arrest, corrective counseling for employees, or student discipline.
The University endeavors to increase trust and understanding among campus stakeholders. Some protests can be avoided if there are effective lines of communication between would-be protesters and campus administration, and ongoing opportunities to raise substantive concerns with the administration.
To ensure an effective University response to protests, coordination between University representatives is essential. The campus will evaluate events in a viewpoint-neutral manner and avoid or limit the use of force against protesters wherever possible.
Our priorities when responding to a protest or demonstration:
Section UWS 18.11 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code (Offenses Against Public Peace and Order) outlines University of Wisconsin System’s guidelines on picketing, rallying, parades, demonstrations, assemblies, sound amplification, computer use and other behavior1. It is particularly important to highlight that activities which physically obstruct access to university lands or buildings and prevent the university from carrying on its instructional, research, public service, or administrative functions accordance may be deemed unlawful under certain conditions noted in UWS 18.11(4)(a)2.
This section of the PRP clarifies how UW-Madison interprets and operationalizes UW-System code as it relates to disruption of freedom of expression3. The intent is to provide a clear sense of appropriate behavioral parameters for students and the processes related to addressing disruption. Because it is not possible to anticipate every scenario given the organic and emerging nature of freedom of expression, more specific questions should be directed to the Dean of Students Office. These standards and practices will be reviewed, and if needed, revised by the Student Affairs at the end of each academic year and publicized on their website and through various communication means on campus.
Behavior will be evaluated for whether it is disruptive based on when, where and how it occurs. The appraisal focuses on behaviors while remaining neutral about the content being addressed by the event or those protesting. Determining whether those elements are present takes the following into consideration:
Behaviors which occur during and near the time of an event.
Behaviors that occur at “university-run or university-authorized activities,” as noted in Section UWS 17.09(8)4 Such activities are usually one of the following:
While standards for disruption of freedom of expression are generally not applied to places that are considered a public forum such as Library Mall or outside of a building, other behavioral expectations laid out in the UWS codes 17 and 18 are still applicable.5
Related to an event, behaviors which materially and substantially disrupt another person’s freedom of expression or the ability of others to receive the expression. Indicators include:
If an incident of disruption occurs, the University will proceed under Chapter UWS 17 procedures (found on the OSCCS website7 please also refer to Chapter UWS 178 for the full description of the procedures).
To ensure the campus is prepared and all potential alternatives have been considered, the University is committed to dedicating reasonably necessary resources when protests and demonstrations occur, and to continuously assess processes of event registration, event review, decision-making mechanisms, communication and coordination with outside agencies.
The University conducts ongoing training for staff and administrators in the areas of crowd management, mediation, de-escalation techniques, the Incident Command System, and police force options. Exercises and trainings are jointly conducted with campus administration and police to rehearse responses to protest and civil disobedience scenarios.
The Campus Event Services Office (CESO) assists student organizations, academic departments, and others in planning and coordinating events and campus activities in the Memorial Union, Union South and other campus buildings. It offers event planning; room reservations; food selection, technology and room set-up; and campus facilities and outdoor spaces reservations. CESO is the primary office to facilitate space use/reservations for all events. For general information and reservation requests, go to:
CESO and those persons responsible for reserving “Special Assignment” spaces outlined in Facilities Use Guideline G-14: Event Notification and Security Review Process11 will notify appropriate campus offices of an upcoming space use request for approval and/or support. Based on the nature or location of the proposed event, space requests may also require a security review to assess site feasibility and safe facilitation of the event.
Event notifications to specific offices as outlined in G-14 will be required whenever a use request involves the following elements:
Whenever a request involves any of the following elements, CESO will notify the Security Review Team to conduct a safety assessment:
In these circumstances, the organizers will be notified that a security review is required and the specific concerns will be clearly communicated. In such instances, it will be the responsibility of the organizer to work with the University to remedy the concerns prior to the event taking place. If a threat of violence exists in connection to the planned event, the University reserves the right to cancel the event.
The Security Review Team consists of the following additional offices:
The security review will include a walk-through of the potential site to assess feasibility. In some instances, the walk-through may reveal changes necessary for the safety of those participating. Examples include identifying specific entry and egress points. If it is determined during the event review process that the venue is not suitable for the organization’s request, alternate sites may be required or the requested site deemed unsuitable and the event cancelled.
With effective communication between event organizers, demonstrators, and campus administration, disruptions can sometimes be avoided – or at least, can take place peacefully without any police intervention requiring force. When possible, Student Affairs staff and UWPD are open to meeting in advance with groups organizing events or those opposed to it with the intent to learn more about the issues at hand and suggest routes for resolution. Campus administration may also ask questions or propose adjustments that can facilitate the event while maintaining safety. Topics to be discussed concerning an event may include, but are not limited to:
The goal of pre-event planning is to share any known information so that all parties are informed of campus expectations, options and responsibilities, and any possible consequences that could arise due to actions of protestors or demonstrators. Groups consulting with the University should not expect confidentiality about their plans. After the pre-event planning, the University can clarify what resources beyond the University’s normal provision are needed and the associated costs and payment for such costs may be required.
Campus administration will communicate with affected members of the community about anticipated disruptions prior to the event as well as any safety concerns that arise during the protest or demonstration. This communication may occur through University online website announcements, campus email messages, audible announcements, and WiscAlerts (or other methods).
The Campus Protest Decision Making Team (Appendix A), and other staff from UWPD and Student Affairs will have responsibility for the campus’ response to a protest or demonstration, subject to the supervision of the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration and the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs.
To facilitate coordination and ensure a consistent police response, the UWPD will coordinate pre-event planning with any outside agencies that may provide assistance. Pre-event planning will include establishing an Incident Action Plan (IAP) - outlining police operations for the event. UWPD will conduct any and all event briefings and distribute, as appropriate, the IAP. In its communications with all involved agencies, the UWPD will emphasize the importance of respecting the freedom of expression of all those involved in protests or demonstrations.
Once a potential or active protest or demonstration has been identified, campus staff will generally assume the following roles:
The Protest Decision-Making Team is comprised of senior campus administration charged with the ability to quickly assemble to evaluate on-going protests and demonstrations, provide guidance to campus staff facilitating specific campus events, and make necessary decisions regarding the event. The team will consist of the following standing members:
In addition to the above members, the PDT may also elect to include additional members as needed.
The Protest Administrative Review Team (PART) is comprised of campus stakeholders charged with ongoing review of the guidelines set forth in this report and assessment of campus response to protests and demonstrations. The PART is co-chaired by the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration with membership to include the following:
Does the PRP apply to outdoor campus spaces that are able to be reserved? Yes.
What if a group disrupts a group that is protesting within the allowed guidelines? The disrupting group would be subject to having its conduct reviewed.
What about disruptions like taking over an office? The assumption is that most other types of institutional disruption are generally covered in Section UWS 18.11 (Offenses Against Public Peace and Order.)13
If a person is part of a group that plans a disruption (assuming it doesn't violate a law or policy), but doesn't do it themselves, can they be held responsible? No, the University would not usually go forward with action against an individual who did not participate in the disruptive behavior if the person did not engage in it themselves. We may hold a Registered Student Organization responsible through the Committee on Student Organizations.14
Are all individuals in a group that disrupts treated the same? When multiple students are involved in the same incident, each may not receive the same outcomes. While the behaviors in question may be similar, each student has unique conduct histories that may warrant differential outcomes.
Can a person wear a costume mask? How about a face covering for health purposes? Yes, especially in light of public health guidance face coverings are permitted. A person may be asked to remove a costume mask if it is deemed disruptive or if necessary for security purposes.
Does the University of Wisconsin System code apply to a University event that occurs at an off-campus venue? Yes.
Is a campus/RSO sponsored Facebook live feed that is hacked or flooded with comments considered a disruption? Potentially. The behavior would be evaluated under UWS 18.11 and UWS 17.15
How late can the organizers of an event wait to determine and announce the ground rules of an event? Can they change them in the middle of the event? Groups are encouraged to notify those attending of the ground rules for their event. That said, it is the organizers’ event and they can change them as long as the change equitably applies to everyone.
What are recommended ways to communicate the interpretation and operationalization of this policy to students? Social media, print materials, orientation, presentations, meetings.
Who evaluates evidence used to determine whether a disruption occurred? An Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards assigned investigator.
Who participates in the process? See Chapter UWS 1716
3 The UW System Board of Regents’ Commitment to Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression policy prescribes conduct outcomes for students who violate the ability for others to express themselves. That aspect of the policy is not currently in effect at UW-Madison as it must first be signed into law by the Wisconsin Governor