The University of Wisconsin-Madison endeavors to maintain an environment that challenges students, faculty, and staff to develop their critical thinking capacities to their fullest potential-an environment in which controversial, provocative, and unpopular ideas can safely be introduced and discussed. The university is, therefore, unswervingly committed to freedom of speech as guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and to the principle of academic freedom adopted by the Board of Regents in 1894, which states in part: “whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone truth can be found.”
Beneficial to students, academic staff and professors alike, academic freedom has special application to the classroom and has been described by U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan as “…of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned. That freedom is therefore a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom….The classroom is peculiarly the marketplace of ideas.”
Adherence to the right of freedom of speech and to the principle of academic freedom requires that all thoughts presented as ideas or the advocacy of ideas in instructional settings, if they are germane to the subject matter of the course being taught, must be protected. This applies to the ideas of faculty and students alike. The maintenance of intellectual freedom through the open expression of ideas will sometimes be unavoidably hurtful. Some hurtful expressions, however, play no meaningful role in the free exchange of ideas; they may, indeed, inhibit that exchange, thereby denying some individuals full participation in the learning experience. These expressions are those that clearly derogate and debase a student or students in the class on the basis of gender, gender identity and expression, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability.
Within the framework of academic freedom, the faculty and academic staff have a responsibility to foster an environment of tolerance, civility, awareness, and respect. The university community can thrive and serve its members equally only when the community recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of every human being and affirms the principle of mutual respect as an integral aspect of the pursuit of knowledge. The integrity of the University of Wisconsin-Madison rests upon its ability to guarantee freedom from intimidation or injury generated by intolerance or harassment. The freedom of all members of the university to express openly their ideas and opinions, however, must be maintained.
Accordingly, all expression germane to the instructional setting–including but not limited to information, the presentation or advocacy of ideas, assignment of course materials, and teaching techniques–is protected from disciplinary action.
A student who finds that an instructor uses expressions that are hurtful to them is strongly urged to discuss these concerns with the instructor. If for some reason this is not possible, or does not produce results the student finds satisfactory, they are urged to contact their advisor, the instructor’s department chair, or the Dean of Students, for mediation between the student and the academic staff or faculty member. If the student still believes the expressions were not germane to the instructional setting, they are referred to Faculty Policies and Procedures Chapter 9 or Academic Staff Policies and Procedures Chapter 6.
Faculty and academic staff are subject to discipline for using derogating and debasing expression in a non-instructional but work-related setting according to the following definitions and rules.
The procedures below distinguish between (a) situations in which someone believes that a member of the faculty or academic staff has engaged in prohibited expression, but there could be no violation of Part II.2.a, because there had been no prior request not to engage in that expression, and (b) situations in which the claim is that Part II has been violated, because such a request had been made and the expression was subsequently repeated.
In the first situation, the procedures deal with communication between the person who engaged in the expression and the person who objects to it. This may lead to agreement on whether the expression is or is not protected. If no such agreement emerges, the procedures provide mechanisms for obtaining clarification on whether the expression is protected.
The second situation is one in which it is claimed that unprotected expression has been repeated and constitutes a violation of these rules. Experience demonstrates that most such claims can and should be dealt with through informal processes whose goal is to enhance the understanding of those concerned and to fashion a resolution that each of them will perceive as fair and reasonable. The procedures for seeking such a resolution are set forth below. In addition, the university’s formal disciplinary processes are explained, as is the grievance process available to a faculty member who believes that their rights have been violated by proceedings under these rules. Whether a matter is being pursued informally or through formal disciplinary proceedings, expression cannot be deemed a violation of these rules unless all of the requirements of Part II.2.a are satisfied.
UW–Madison Faculty Document 458a – 2 November 1981
UW–Madison Faculty Document 758 – 2 May 1988
UW–Madison Faculty Document 786 – 6 February 1989
UW–Madison Faculty Document 1402c – 1 March 1999
UW–Madison Faculty Document 2708 – 4 December 2017