Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students

In June 1967, a committee composed of representatives from the American Association of University Professors, the United States National Student Association (now the United States Student Association), the Association of American Colleges (now the American Association of Colleges and Universities), the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, and the National Association of Women Deans and Counselors formulated the joint statement. The document was endorsed by each of its five national sponsors, as well as by a number of other professional bodies. The governing bodies of the Association of American Colleges and the American Association of University Professors acted respectively in January and April 1990 to remove gender-specific references from the original text.

In September 1990, September 1991, and November 1992, an inter-association task force met to study, interpret, update, and affirm (or reaffirm) the Joint Statement. Members of the task force agreed that the document has stood the test of time quite well and continues to provide an excellent set of principles for institutions of higher education. The task force developed a set of interpretive notes to incorporate changes in law and higher education that have occurred since 1967. These interpretive notes are referenced within the original text. A list of associations endorsing the annotations appears as an appendix.


Academic institutions exist for the transmission of knowledge, the pursuit of truth, the development of students, and the general well-being of society. Free inquiry and free expression are indispensable to the attainment of these goals. As members of the academic community, students should be encouraged to develop the capacity for critical judgment and to engage in a sustained and independent search for truth. Institutional procedures for achieving these purposes may vary from campus to campus, but the minimal standards of academic freedom of students outlined below are essential to any community of scholars.

Freedom to teach and freedom to learn are inseparable facets of academic freedom. The freedom to learn depends upon appropriate opportunities and conditions in the classroom, on the campus, and in the larger community.1 Students should exercise their freedom with responsibility.

The responsibility to secure and to respect general conditions conducive to the freedom to learn is shared by all members of the academic community. Each college and university has a duty to develop policies and procedures that provide and safeguard this freedom. Such policies and procedures should be developed at each institution within the framework of general standards and with the broadest possible participation of the members of the academic community. The purpose of this statement is to enumerate the essential provisions for students’ freedom to learn.

Freedom of Access to Higher Education

The admissions policies of each college and university are a matter of institutional choice, provided that each college and university makes clear the characteristics and expectations of students that it considers relevant to success in the institution’s program.2  While church-related institutions may give admission preference to students of their own persuasion, such a preference should be clearly and publicly stated. Under no circumstances should a student be barred from admission to a particular institution on the basis of race.3   Thus, within the limits of its facilities, each college and university should be open to all students who are qualified according to its admissions standards. The facilities and services of a college or university should be open to all of its enrolled students, and institutions should use their influence to secure equal access for all students to public facilities in the local community.

In the Classroom

The professor in the classroom and in conference should encourage free discussion, inquiry, and expression. Student performance should be evaluated solely on an academic basis, not on opinions or conduct in matters unrelated to academic standards.

1. Protection of Freedom of Expression.

Students should be free to take reasoned exception to the data or views offered in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion, but they are responsible for learning the content of any course of study for which they are enrolled.

2. Protection against Improper Academic Evaluation.

Students should have protection through orderly procedures against prejudiced or capricious academic evaluation.4  At the same time, they are responsible for maintaining standards of academic performance established for each course in which they are enrolled.

3. Protection against Improper Disclosure.

Information about student views, beliefs, and political associations that professors acquire in the course of their work as instructors, advisers, and counselors should be considered confidential. Protection against improper disclosure is a serious professional obligation. Judgments of ability and character may be provided under appropriate circumstances, normally with the knowledge and consent of the student.

Student Records

Institutions should have carefully considered policy as to the information that should be part of a student’s permanent educational record and as to the conditions of its disclosure. To minimize the risk of improper disclosure, academic and disciplinary records should be separate, and the conditions of access to each should be set forth in an explicit policy statement. Transcripts of academic records should contain only information about academic status. Information from disciplinary or counseling files should not be available to unauthorized persons on campus, or to any person off campus without the express consent of the student involved, except under legal compulsion or in cases where the safety of persons or property is involved. No records should be kept that reflect the political activities or beliefs of students. Provision should also be made for periodic routine destruction of non-current disciplinary records. Administrative staff and faculty members should respect confidential information about students which they acquire in the course of their work.5

Student Affairs

In student affairs, certain standards must be maintained if the freedom of students is to be preserved.6 

1. Freedom of Association.

Students bring to the campus a variety of interests previously acquired and develop many new interests as members of the academic community. They should be free to organize and join associations to promote their common interests.

a. The membership, policies, and actions of a student organization usually will be determined by vote of only those persons who hold bona fide membership in the college or university community.

b. Affiliation with an extramural organization should not of itself disqualify a student organization from institutional recognition.7

c. If campus advisers are required, each organization should be free to choose its own adviser, and institutional recognition should not be withheld or withdrawn solely because of the inability of a student organization to secure an adviser. Campus advisers may advise organizations in the exercise of responsibility, but they should not have the authority to control the policy of such organizations.

d. Student organizations may be required to submit a statement of purpose, criteria for membership, rules of procedure, and a current list of officers. They should not be required to submit a membership list as a condition of institutional recognition.

e. Campus organizations, including those affiliated with an extramural organization, should be open to all students without respect to race, creed, or national origin, except for religious qualifications which may be required by organizations whose aims are primarily sectarian.8

2. Freedom of Inquiry and Expression

a. Students and student organizations should be free to examine and discuss all questions of interest to them and to express opinions publicly and privately. They should always be free to support causes by orderly means that do not disrupt the regular and essential operations of the institution. At the same time, it should be made clear to the academic and larger community that in their public expressions or demonstrations students or student organizations speak only for themselves.

b. Students should be allowed to invite and to hear any person of their own choosing. Those routine procedures required by an institution before a guest speaker is invited to appear on campus should be designed only to ensure that there is orderly scheduling of facilities and adequate preparation for the event, and that the occasion is conducted in a manner appropriate to an academic community. The institutional control of campus facilities should not be used as a device of censorship. It should be made clear to the academic and larger community that sponsorship of guest speakers does not necessarily imply approval or endorsement of the views expressed, either by the sponsoring group or by the institution.9

3. Student Participation in Institutional Government.

As constituents of the academic community, students should be free, individually and collectively, to express their views on issues of institutional policy and on matters of general interest to the student body. The student body should have clearly defined means to participate in the formulation and application of institutional policy affecting academic and student affairs.10 The role of student government and both its general and specific responsibilities should be made explicit, and the actions of student government within the areas of its jurisdiction should be reviewed only through orderly and prescribed procedures.

4. Student Publications.

Student publications and the student press are valuable aids in establishing and maintaining an atmosphere of free and responsible discussion and of intellectual exploration on the campus. They are a means of bringing student concerns to the attention of the faculty and the institutional authorities and of formulating student opinion on various issues on the campus and in the world at large.

Whenever possible the student newspaper should be an independent corporation financially and legally separate from the college or university. Where financial and legal autonomy is not possible, the institution, as the publisher of student publications, may have to bear the legal responsibility for the contents of the publications. In the delegation of editorial responsibility to students, the institution must provide sufficient editorial freedom and financial autonomy  for the student publications to maintain their integrity of purpose as vehicles for free inquiry and free expression in an academic community.

Institutional authorities, in consultation with students and faculty, have a responsibility to provide written clarification of the role of the student publications, the standards to be used in their evaluation, and the limitations on external control of their operation. At the same time, the editorial freedom of student editors and managers entails corollary responsibilities to be governed by the canons of responsible journalism, such as the avoidance of libel, indecency, undocumented allegations, attacks on personal integrity, and the techniques of harassment and innuendo. As safeguards for the editorial freedom of student publications the following provisions are necessary:

a. The student press should be free of censorship and advance approval of copy, and its editors and managers should be free to develop their own editorial policies and news coverage.

b. Editors and managers of student publications should be protected from arbitrary suspension and removal because of student, faculty, administration, or public disapproval of editorial policy or content. Only for proper and stated causes should editors and managers be subject to removal and then only by orderly and prescribed procedures.

The agency responsible for the appointment of editors and managers should be the agency responsible for their removal.

c. All institutionally published and financed student publications should explicitly state on the editorial page that the opinions there expressed are not necessarily those of the college, university, or student body.

Off-Campus Freedom of Students

1. Exercise of Rights of Citizenship.

College and university students are both citizens and members of the academic community. As citizens, students should enjoy the same freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, and right of petition that other citizens enjoy and, as members of the academic community, they are subject to the obligations that accrue to them by virtue of this membership. Faculty members and administration officials should ensure that institutional powers are not employed to inhibit such intellectual and personal development of students as is often promoted by their exercise of the rights of citizenship both on and off campus.

2. Institutional Authority and Civil Penalties.

Activities of students may upon occasion result in violation of law. In such cases, institutional officials should be prepared to apprise students of sources of legal counsel and may offer other assistance. Students who violate the law may incur penalties prescribed by civil authorities, but institutional authority should never be used merely to duplicate the function of general laws. Only where the institution’s interests as an academic community are distinct and clearly involved should the special authority of the institution be asserted. Students who incidentally violate institutional regulations in the course of their off-campus activity, such as those relating to class attendance, should be subject to no greater penalty than would normally be imposed. Institutional action should be independent of community pressure.

Procedural Standards in Disciplinary Proceedings

In developing responsible student conduct, disciplinary proceedings play a role substantially secondary to example, counseling, guidance, and admonition.11 At the same time, educational institutions have a duty and the corollary disciplinary powers to protect their educational purpose through the setting of standards of scholarship and conduct for the students who attend them and through the regulation of the use of institutional facilities. In the exceptional circumstances when the preferred means fail to resolve problems of student conduct, proper procedural safeguards should be observed to protect the student from the unfair imposition of serious penalties.

The administration of discipline should guarantee procedural fairness to an accused student. 12 Practices in disciplinary cases may vary in formality with the gravity of the offense and the sanctions that may be  applied. They should also take into account the presence or absence of an honor code, and the degree to which the institutional officials have direct acquaintance with student life in general and with the involved student and the circumstances of the case in particular. The jurisdictions of faculty or student judicial bodies, the disciplinary responsibilities of institutional officials, and the regular disciplinary procedures, including the student’s right to appeal a decision, should be clearly formulated and communicated in advance.13 Minor penalties may be assessed informally under prescribed procedures.

In all situations, procedural fair play requires that a student charged with misconduct be informed of the nature of the charges and be given a fair opportunity to refute them, that the institution not be arbitrary in its actions, and that there be provision for appeal of a decision. The following are recommended as proper safeguards in such proceedings when there are no honor codes offering comparable guarantees.

1. Standards of Conduct Expected of Students.

The institution has an obligation to clarify those standards that it considers essential to its educational mission and its community life. These general behavioral expectations and the resultant specific regulations should represent a reasonable regulation of student conduct, but students should be as free as possible from imposed limitations that have no direct relevance to their education. Offenses should be as clearly defined as possible and interpreted in a manner consistent with the aforementioned principles of relevancy and reasonableness.14 Disciplinary proceedings should be instituted only for violations of standards of conduct formulated with significant student participation and published in advance through such means as a student handbook or a generally available body of institutional regulations.

2. Investigation of Student Conduct

a. Except under extreme emergency circumstances, premises occupied by students and the personal possessions of students should not be searched unless appropriate authorization has been obtained. For premises such as residence halls controlled by the institution, an appropriate and responsible authority should be designated to whom application should be made before a search is conducted. The application should specify the reasons for the search and the objects or information sought. The student should be present, if possible, during the search. For premises not controlled by the institution, the ordinary requirements for lawful search should be followed.

b. Students detected or arrested in the course of serious violations of institutional regulations, or infractions of ordinary law, should be informed of their rights.15   No form of harassment should be used by institutional representatives to coerce admissions of guilt or disclosure of information about conduct of other suspected persons.

3. Status of Student Pending Final Action.

Pending action on the charges, the status of a student should not be altered, or the student’s right to be present on the campus and to attend classes suspended, except for reasons relating to the student’s physical or emotional safety and well-being, or for reasons relating to the safety and well-being of other students, faculty, or institutional property.

4. Hearing Committee Procedures.

When the misconduct may result in serious penalties, and if a penalized student questions the fairness of disciplinary action, that student should be granted, on request, the privilege of a hearing before a regularly constituted hearing committee. The following suggested hearing committee procedures satisfy the requirements of procedural due process in situations requiring a high degree of formality.

a. The hearing committee should include faculty members or students, or, if regularly included or requested by the accused, both faculty and student members. No member of the hearing committee who is otherwise interested in the particular case should sit in judgment during the proceeding.

b. The student should be informed, in writing, of the reasons for the proposed disciplinary action with sufficient particularity, and in sufficient time, to ensure opportunity to prepare for the hearing.16

c. The student appearing before the hearing committee should have the right to be assisted in his or her defense by an adviser of the student’s choice.

d. The burden of proof should rest upon the officials bringing the charge.

e. The student should be given an opportunity to testify, to present evidence and witnesses, and to hear and question adverse witnesses. In no case should the committee consider statements against the student unless he or she has been advised of their content and of the names of those who made them and has been given an opportunity to rebut unfavorable inferences that might otherwise be drawn.

f. All matters upon which the decision may be based must be introduced into evidence at the proceeding before the hearing committee. The decision should be based solely upon such matters. Improperly acquired evidence should not be admitted.

g. In the absence of a transcript, there should be both a digest and a verbatim record, such as a tape recording, of the hearing.

h. The decision of the hearing committee should be final, subject only to the student’s right of appeal to the president or ultimately to the governing board of the institution.17


The following associations endorsed the interpretive footnotes:

American Association of Community Colleges
American Association of University Administrators
American Association of University Professors
American College Personnel Association
Association for Student Judicial Affairs
National Association for Women in Education
National Association of Student Personnel Administrators
National Orientation Directors Association
Southern Association for College Student Affairs
United States Student Association


1. In order to protect the freedom of students to learn, as well as enhance their participation in the life of the academic community, students should be free from exploitation or harassment. Back to text

2. In order to enable them to make appropriate choices and participate effectively in an institution’s programs, students have the right to be informed about the institution, its policies, practices, and characteristics. Institutions preparing such information should take into account applicable federal and state laws.Back to text

3. The reference to race must not be taken to limit the nondiscrimination obligations of institutions. In all aspects of education, students have a right to be free from discrimination on the basis of individual attributes not demonstrably related to academic success in the institution’s programs, including, but not limited to, race, color, gender, age, disability, national origin, and sexual orientation. Under Grutter v Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 330 (2003), “student body diversity”—including racial diversity—”is a compelling state interest that can justify the use of race in university admissions.” This means that, when colleges and universities determine that achieving diversity within the student body is relevant to their academic mission, their admissions offices may take an applicant’s race into account as one factor among many in making an admission decision. Back to text

4. The student grievance procedures typically used in these matters are not appropriate for addressing charges of academic dishonesty or other disciplinary matters arising in the classroom. In these instances, students should be afforded the safeguards of orderly procedures consistent with those set forth in “Procedural Standards in Disciplinary Proceedings.” (In 1997, AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure approved a statement on “The Assignment of Course Grades and Student Appeals,” AAUP, Policy Documents and Reports, 11th ed. [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015], 29–30.) Back to text

5. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) provides for the protection of student records. Consistent with FERPA, institutions should have a statement of policy on the content of a student’s educational record as well as the conditions for its disclosure. Institutions should also have policies and security practices to control access to student records that may be available or transmitted electronically. Back to text

6. As in the case of classroom matters, students shall have protection through orderly procedures to ensure this freedom. Back to text

7. “Institutional recognition” should be understood to refer to any formal relationship between the student organization and the institution. Back to text

8. The obligation of institutions with respect to nondiscrimination, with the exception noted above for religious qualifications, should be understood in accordance with the expanded statement on nondiscrimination in n. 3, above. Exceptions may also be based on gender as authorized by law. Back to text

9. The events referred to in this section should be understood to include the full range of student-sponsored activities, such as films, exhibitions, and performances. Back to text

10. “Academic and student affairs” should be interpreted broadly to include all administrative and policy matters pertinent to students’ educational experiences. Back to text

11. The student conduct that may be subject to the disciplinary proceedings described in this section should be understood to include alleged violations of standards of student academic integrity. Back to text

12. In addition, student organizations as well as individual students may be subject to institutional disciplinary sanctions, and in those circumstances, student organizations should also be guaranteed procedural fairness. Back to text

13. Like other practices in disciplinary cases, the formality of any appellate procedures should be commensurate with the gravity of the offense and the sanctions that may be imposed. Back to text

14. The institution should state as specifically as possible the sanctions that may be imposed through disciplinary proceedings. Back to text

15. This provision is intended to protect students’ rights under both institutional codes and applicable law. Where institutional regulations are violated, students should be informed of their rights under campus disciplinary procedures. Where arrests are made for infractions of the law, students must be informed of their rights by arresting authorities. Back to text

16. The student should also be informed of the specific sanctions that may be imposed through the disciplinary proceeding. Back to text

17. As a matter of responsible practice, the decision of the hearing committee, as well as grounds and procedures for appeal, should be communicated to the student in writing within a reasonable period of time. Back to text