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Campus protests: Rights and responsibilities

April 26, 2024

The following message from Dean of Students Christina Olstad and UWPD Interim Chief Brent Plisch has been shared with all students, faculty and staff on April 26, 2024.

Dear UW–Madison Community,

A longstanding priority of our campus, captured by our now-famous language about the importance of “that fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone truth can be found,” is to promote the free exchange of ideas through open dialogue, free inquiry, and healthy and robust debate.

We deeply value the right to free expression and have consistently supported those on our campus and in our community who have chosen to exercise this right in a variety of ways, including through protest, within the boundaries of law and campus policies.

As we reach the end of the academic year, at college campuses across the country, people are grappling with the impact of the October 7 terrorist attacks in Israel and the ongoing war in Gaza. It has been a painful year for many.

In recent days, we have also seen headlines about protests on campuses across the country. On our campus, we are committed to protect those who wish to exercise their rights to free expression, including protest. We are equally committed by both law and our mission to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of our community; to follow state laws and regulations; to ensure the free expression of one group does not interfere with the free expression rights of others; and to prevent disruption of university functions.

For anyone who chooses to protest at UW–Madison, we encourage you to do so safely, within the boundaries of campus protest policies and the provisions established under Chapter 18 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code, which was enacted by the legislature and includes limits on the types of activities permitted on campus. Among other rules, this section specifically defines and prohibits camping on university property. It also includes information about other conduct on university lands, including rules pertaining to building closing hours and items and activities prohibited inside university buildings.

Our priority is to first educate our community, though as at all other times, ultimately the university must and will enforce Chapter 18, as well as other applicable laws, and policies, when needed. We have worked hard this semester to foster dialogue across differences, and to encourage our students, our staff and our faculty to engage in civil and respectful conversation around difficult and deeply divisive issues. As we reach the end of the year, we ask that our community continue to do this work.

If you choose to protest, please be cognizant of the relevant rules and limitations. We support your right to protest within these limitations. Failing to abide by these limitations can and will have consequences, both within our code of student conduct and more broadly under Wisconsin law.

Resources and support are available across campus, including protest guidelines, and opportunities to find and build community. Students with questions can reach out to the Dean of Students Office. Instructors looking for guidance around activities in the classroom can reach out to the Division of Teaching and Learning.

Thank you for all you do and wishing you all a safe and healthy end of the academic year.


Christina Olstad, Dean of Students
Brent Plisch, Interim Chief, UWPD