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University Policy 4.23
Interim Expressive Activity Policy


Interim Expressive Activity Policy 

I.              General Principles

Free and open inquiry and expression is one of the university’s core values.  As recognized by the Cornell Policy Statement on Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech and Expression (the “Academic Freedom Statement”), Cornell has traditionally encouraged the free exchange of ideas, robust debate and dissent, peaceful protests and demonstrations, marches, picketing, rallies, signage and postering, displays and other symbolic speech, the distribution of information, and other means of communicating viewpoints and opinions (collectively, “expressive activity”) as essential to the university’s purpose.  The Academic Freedom Statement and this Policy on Expressive Activity (“Policy”) establish expectations for Cornell students, faculty, and staff (“Cornellians”) engaged in expressive activity in university programs, activities, facilities, and spaces along with other reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions that the university may establish. 

Free Expression Responsibilities in a Community of Belonging

As members of a residential living and learning community, Cornellians engaging in expressive activity are expected to conduct themselves responsibly and in accordance with this Policy.  All Cornellians, individually and collectively, are responsible for respecting the rights of other community members and their sponsored guests under this Policy.   Infringement upon the rights of others to speak and to be heard, or interference with the peaceful and lawful use and enjoyment of university premises, facilities, and programs, is never acceptable. 

When engaging in expressive activity, Cornellians should remember that they speak for themselves only and are responsible for their own speech.   Cornellians may not attribute their speech to the university, unless they are university spokespersons acting within the scope of their duties.   Nor may the speech of sponsored guests be attributed to the university.   Accordingly, the occurrence of an event or activity at the university should not be interpreted to mean that the university endorses, supports, refutes or disagrees with its subject matter or content.  

Expressive activity may not compromise public safety, impede the free movement of people or vehicles, damage university property, or interfere with regular university operations, as determined by the university.   In addition to this Policy, expressive activity must also comply with all applicable university policies and with facility rules and regulations, including but not limited to occupancy limits, fire codes, and hours of operation. Expressive activity that unreasonably interferences with another’s quiet enjoyment of their living space is not permitted.

Participants must also adhere to all local, state, and federal laws.

As a non-profit institution, Cornell is prohibited by federal tax law from engaging in political campaign activity.   Accordingly, Cornellians may not use Cornell resources to engage expressive activities that qualify as political campaign activity.   For more information, see Policy 4.18, Political Campaign Activity.

Policy Administration

This Policy will be administered in a content-neutral manner and without regard to the message or viewpoint being expressed.   Cornellians, however, who engage in activity that violates this Policy will be referred to the appropriate office for disciplinary action. Sponsored guests who engage in activity that violates this Policy may be subject to criminal or civil penalties.

II.            Scope

This Policy applies to expressive activities conducted by Cornellians and by sponsored university guests that involve the use of university resources.[1]  For purposes of this Policy, “university resources” means Cornell facilities and other properties owned or controlled by the university; funds; branding (e.g., name or marks of the university or any of its colleges or subunits) or other resources owned or administered by Cornell.   

The use of university resources for expressive activities is restricted to Cornellians and to sponsored university guests.  No other individuals or groups may use university resources for expressive activity of any kind.  Units that are responsible for administering university resources retain discretion over the responsible use of those resources, including their use for expressive activity by Cornellians or by sponsored university guests, consistent with this Policy and other university policies.  

To become sponsored university guests for purposes of this Policy, external groups or individuals must be formally sponsored by one of the following: (a) a college or school, academic department, or administrative unit of the university; (b) a registered university-sponsored student organization and its affiliated office/department/unit; (c) a registered independent student organization; or (d) a Cornell shared governance body (e.g., Faculty Senate, the assemblies). No other Cornell individuals or groups may sponsor university guests for expressive activities.  

University sponsors are responsible for overseeing their sponsored guests and activities while on university owned or controlled property and must have a representative present during the actual event or activity.  As such, the university sponsor is responsible for ensuring compliance with this Policy and other university policies.  University sponsors are also responsible for obtaining appropriate approvals for use of university resources for expressive activities from the unit that administers the resource.   

This Policy, however, is not intended to supersede or interfere with existing space registration procedures for the management of non-public curricular programing (e.g., classrooms, labs, research activity) overseen by academic units such as scheduling courses or course-related activities; nor does this Policy proscribe guidelines for faculty management of non-public curricular programming.

[1] This Policy does not intend to nor should result in the interference with any rights of Cornell employees to engage in protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act.

III.          Event Planning

This Policy outlines expectations for hosting events consistent with public health, public safety, and business operational considerations for the following types of campus expressive activities:  speakers, artistic performances, and programs; outdoor events; indoor events; postering, signs, and chalking; installations; and outdoor camping.  Event organizers are responsible for ensuring their events comply with this Policy and other university policies.

Event organizers should be prepared to address the following considerations: 

  1. protecting health and safety;

  2. preventing damage and risk of damage to university grounds and property;

  3. preserving unimpeded mobility on pathways, streets, and within buildings, including entrance to and departure from buildings;

  4. avoiding interference with other university activities;

  5. reasonably limiting costs to the university of increased campus police protection, event safety staffing, medical resources, potential university liability, insurance coverage, and cleanup and repair after an event; and

  6. preserving campus aesthetic values.

In rare cases, Cornell, in its sole discretion, may disallow or prohibit activities based on the foregoing factors. These factors will be applied in a content-neutral manner. Advance registration enables the university to appropriately address health and safety concerns and to help organizers plan for a successful event.  Failure to register may impact the successful implementation of the event. For more information on scheduling events, see the campus specific links below.

Ithaca and Agritech:  Academic and Event Scheduling Website

The University Events Team is available to assist organizers in navigating these responsibilities.  

Weill Cornell Medicine: Event Services Website

Cornell Tech:  Student Event Guidelines  

A.       Speakers, Artistic Performances, and Programs

Members of the university community may work with an appropriate university body (see Section II above) to seek formal sponsorship of external speakers, artists and performers, and to organize events using university resources, pursuant to the requirements of this Policy and the approval of the unit that administers the resource.   

Cornell values free and open inquiry and expression even of ideas considered controversial, wrong, or offensive.  A speaker or performer has the right to speak without intimidation and the audience has the right to hear what the speaker has to say. Debate, dissent, and protest are all appropriate ways to register one’s disapproval of the content of another’s speech, so long as they do not interfere with a speaker’s ability to communicate or the audience’s ability to hear and see. Heckling, interruptions, and other acts that intentionally attempt to disrupt speakers or events are wholly unacceptable. 

B.        Outdoor Events

Cornell students, faculty and staff and their invited guests may participate in outdoor picketing, marches, rallies, protests, counter-protests, vigils, and other outdoor demonstrations.  

Organizers should plan the time, place, and conduct of demonstrations wisely to avoid disrupting classrooms, libraries, auditoriums, laboratories, living units, administrative offices, and special event venues.  Organizers are also responsible for complying with all public health and safety requirements.

Outdoor demonstrations may not:

  • disrupt the regular conduct of university teaching, research, business, or other activities, including (without limitation) the activities of groups who have previously reserved particular space;

  • impede access to or from university property or campus roads;

  • endanger the safety of others or pose risk of property damage;

  • use weapons, including firearms (defined as any projectile-firing device including rifles or shotguns), ammunition, explosives, or other dangerous weapons, instruments, or substances. or   

  • use sticks, poles, or other items that could be used as weapons.

Use of Amplified Sound 

On the Ithaca Campus, public address systems or amplified sound may be used only on Ho Plaza and in front of Day Hall between 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. without prior approval.  The use of a public address system or amplified sound, at any other time or location, is not permitted without prior written approval.  See Section IV of this Policy to register the event and seek approval.            

Use of Open Flame

Candles, lamps, and other open flame sources are generally not permitted, but may be approved on a case-by-case basis after review by health and safety personnel.  See Section IV of this Policy to register the event and seek approval.

Community Outdoor Spaces

Registration of outdoor events involving more than 50 people at the Ithaca, Cornell Tech, and Agritech campuses, or involving more than 15 people at the Weill Cornell Medicine NYC campus, is expected in certain community spaces to minimize the likelihood of conflicting events and to promote safety.

For the Ithaca campus, registration for events designed for 50 people or more is expected for the following locations:  Ag Quad, the Arts Quad, Bailey Hall Plaza, the Biology Quad, Day Hall Plaza (East Avenue), the Engineering Quad, Ho Plaza, and the Cornell Botanic Gardens Nevins Welcome Center.  

For the Weill Cornell Medicine NYC campus, registration for events designed for 15 people or more is expected for the following locations: Harkness Courtyard, Belfer Terrace, or Olin Hall Courtyard. 

For the Cornell Tech Campus, registration for events designed for 50 people or more is expected for the following locations:  Campus Lawn, Campus Plaza, Outdoor Classroom, Entry Court, and Campus Hill.

For the Agritech in Geneva Campus, registration for events designed for 50 people or more is expected for the following locations:  Jordan Hall Pavilion and Jordan Hall Lawn.

For information on how to register, see Section IV of this Policy. 

C.        Indoor Events

Cornell students, faculty and staff may participate in indoor demonstrations, tabling, or other expressive activity consistent with applicable building rules or restrictions and consistent with this Policy.  Registration is expected for all such activities.  Organizers are responsible for complying with all building rules and public health and safety requirements.

For information on how to register, see Section IV of this Policy. 

Indoor demonstrations or expressive activity may not:

  • disrupt the regular conduct of university teaching, research, business, or other activities, including (without limitation) the activities of groups who have previously reserved particular space;

  • block building entrances, corridors, stairways, or doorways;

  • violate occupancy limits, fire codes, or otherwise endanger the safety of others or pose risk of property damage;

  • use open flame;

  • use of weapons, including firearms (defined as any projectile-firing device including rifles or shotguns), ammunition, explosives, or other dangerous weapons, instruments, or substances;

  • use sticks, poles, or other items that could be used as weapons; or

  • extend beyond the close of normal business hours.

Please note that living units, private laboratories and offices, dining halls, and libraries, are never appropriate locations for indoor demonstrations.    

D.        Postering, Signs, Chalking

The university, in its sole discretion, may authorize the use of specific portions of its facilities for expressive purposes such as bulletin boards, poster galleries, and art galleries.  Contact the applicable building coordinator or campus facilities director to find out where postering or signage is permitted.   Postering, signage, or the projection of content through lighting or other means in university facilities outside of specially designated areas, or in any outdoor areas (e.g., the Arts Quad), requires prior written permission from the applicable building coordinator or campus facilities director.  See below for campus specific links.

All posters, signs, flyers and banners must conform to the following requirements:

  • They must be dated, must include the name of the sponsoring Cornell organization or unit or individual, and must be removed within two weeks of placement.  

  • They may not obstruct exit signs, exit doors, or fire and life safety systems due to fire code concerns.   

  • Posters, signs and banners larger than 8” x 11” should be made from flame retardant materials.

  • If indoors, they must be affixed to designated areas using adhesives or tacks that are easily removed and that do not damage surfaces.

  • If outdoors, they may not be displayed on trees, buildings, bus stops, street signs, or other outside structures.  

Posters, signs, or light projections  that have been erected or displayed without approval or that are more than two weeks old will be removed by appropriate university personnel. Any cost associated with the removal will be billed to the sponsoring Cornell organization, unit, or individual.  

Use of water-soluble chalk is allowed on all campus sidewalks.  No fixative may be used.   Use of spray chalk, spray paint or other forms of paint, or other similar media that may damage university property is strictly prohibited. Chalking is not permitted on any vertical surface (i.e., sides of buildings).

Individuals who damage university property may face disciplinary consequences, including restitution to restore the property to its normal condition. 

Building Coordinator and Campus Facility Director contacts:

Ithaca: 

Agritech: Joe Remillard, Director of Facilities (jhr34@cornell.edu)

Weill Cornell Medicine NYC:  Michael T. Murphy, Senior Director, Facilities & Campus Operations Administration (mtm2004@med.cornell.edu)

Cornell Tech: Dan Cooke, Senior Director of Facilities Operations (dc943@cornell.edu)

E.        Installations

Symbolic structures, art, and other installations erected on university property for protest or expressive purposes require prior registration and meet the following criteria:

  • must be temporary (less than two weeks);

  • must clearly identify the sponsoring individual or group;

  • must be flame retardant

  • must not obstruct exit signs, exits, or fire and life safety systems;

  • must not otherwise pose a danger to persons or property; and 

  • must conform to any other conditions that may be stipulated in the approval.  

 For information on how to register, see Section IV of this Policy. 

Please note that art installations at the Ithaca campus have separate approval procedures.  For more information, see FAQ for Preparing a Public Art Proposal.

F.   Outdoor Camping

Outdoor camping requires prior registration.  Outdoor camping in authorized locations is not permitted for longer than one week and must comply with public health requirements.

IV.          Registration Processes

Please use the following links to register events or find support for the safe implementation of events:

Ithaca and Agritech Campuses: Visit the Academic and Event Scheduling Website and log into Scheduling@Cornell

Weill Cornell Medicine (NYC): Event Services Website

Cornell Tech:   Student Event Guidelines