Alumni Groups File Amicus Brief in Virginia Tech Free Speech Case

by James A. Bacon

The Alumni Free Speech Alliance (AFSA) and alumni groups from nine colleges and universities, including The Jefferson Council, submitted an  amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday urging the court to hear a case brought by Speech First over the issue of bias reporting practices and procedures at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

“The use of bias reporting systems has become pervasive across American college and university campuses and these systems create a climate of fear and intimidation that causes many students to self-censor and discourages constitutionally protected speech,” said AFSA President Charles Davis. “These bias reporting systems have no place at a university whose defining purpose as a place of learning and human fulfillment can only be achieved through a steadfast commitment to free speech.”

From the brief:

Rather than adopting explicitly punitive speech codes or conditioning participation in university life on acceptance of prevailing views, colleges such as Respondent created “bias response” systems.

Bias response systems typically utilize automated, digital systems that collect information about students, including in many cases from anonymous sources; maintain records and files of information recorded about students that may become widely available to administrators and faculty; and have all the indicia of a university judicial body, including the ability to investigate transgressions, save one: they do not directly punish students. Instead, the teams administering bias response systems can, among other things, “determine if disciplinary action is appropriate,” “designate an administrator for follow-up,” and “implement appropriate restorative justice techniques or methods.”

Nearly every public institution of higher education in Virginia has a bias reporting system of some kind.

AFSA is an alliance of alumni groups from 22 colleges and universities with more than 50,000 alumni, faculty and student supporters. AFSA and its related groups seek to support free speech, academic freedom and viewpoint diversity at American colleges and universities.

The alumni groups joining AFSA in submitting the brief amicus curiae are:

University of California Free Speech Alliance:

Cornell Free Speech Alliance
Davidsonians for Freedom of Thought and Discourse
The Generals Redoubt (Washington & Lee University)

Harvard Alumni for Free Speech
The Jefferson Council of the University of Virginia
MIT Free Speech Alliance

Princetonians for Free Speech
UNC Free Speech Alliance

Questions to AFSA may be directed to Charles Davis at (301) 531-5174 or

James A. Bacon is executive director of The Jefferson Council.