A Victory for Free Speech in Virginia

Virginia universities as leaders in the 21st century free speech movement? Who woulda thunk it? Kudos to the new university presidents, Teresa Sullivan at the University of Virginia and Taylor Revely at William and Mary (replacing the smarmy William Casteen and odious Gene Nichol respectively) for taking stands against the banning of politically incorrect speech. How refreshing it is to have something good to say about the executive leadership of our top universities for a change!

Details come from this release by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE):

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., October 28, 2010—This week, the University of Virginia (UVa) confirmed that it had eliminated the last of its policies that unconstitutionally restricted the free speech of students and faculty members. While more than two-thirds of the nation’s colleges maintain policies that clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech, UVa is now a proud exception, having fully reformed four speech codes. UVa has now earned a coveted “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

“President Teresa Sullivan and her staff should be commended for making these simple but important changes to guarantee the First Amendment rights of students and faculty members at the University of Virginia,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “Within three months of taking office, President Sullivan has overseen the transformation of UVa from a school that earned FIRE’s worst ‘red light’ rating for restricting protected speech to our highest ‘green light’ rating. We hope that more colleges will follow UVa’s sterling example and reform their codes to protect free speech.”

FIRE began working with UVa in April 2010 after a FIRE lecture on free speech at UVa, which was hosted by UVa student groups Students for Individual Liberty and Liberty Coalition. FIRE detailed objections to UVa’s speech codes at the time in a letter to Dean of Students Allen W. Groves on April 7. UVa student Virginia Robinson, a 2010 FIRE Summer Intern, also helped persuade UVa to reform its speech codes.

First, Dean Groves reformed UVa’s “Just Report It!” “bias reporting” system to promise students that protected speech will not be “subject to University disciplinary action or formal investigation” even if it is reported. Then, Assistant Vice President for Information Security, Policy, and Records Shirley Payne removed unconstitutional language from a policy prohibiting Internet messages that “vilify” others and mailing list messages that are “inappropriate.”

Finally, UVa’s Women’s Center confirmed that it had removed two policies with unconstitutional examples of “sexual harassment” from its website. The examples stated that “jokes of a sexual nature,” “teasing,” and even mere “innuendo” constituted sexual harassment. The policies further suggested that simple flirting could be sexual harassment if it was not “wanted and mutual,” and that if a person felt “disrespected,” their experience “could indicate sexual harassment.”

UVa joins its fellow Virginia public institution The College of William & Mary (W&M) in an elite group of 13 “green light” schools. W&M earned its “green light” in October 2009. FIRE is now turning its attention to three more Virginia public universities, including George Mason, which has a “red light” policy, and James Madison and Virginia Tech, which have “yellow light” policies that threaten free speech. …

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4 responses to “A Victory for Free Speech in Virginia”

  1. Gooze Views Avatar
    Gooze Views

    Yo, Big Bacon,
    I am with you on this one but not on the idea of bringing on "business-based principles." Gag me. Got it?
    Peter Galuszka

  2. I'm with you also but I need to see their funding.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    The best remedy for free speech is more free speech.


  4. The ACLU is for free speech also if I recall….

    Who funds the ACLU and who funds FIRE?

    I like free speech.

    let's have some on the funding.

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