Administration makes final changes requested by FIRE

October 4, 2009

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the College is on track for a "green light" designation. The "green light" designation is given to colleges and universities with free-speech-friendly policies. This designation would reflect the recent changes to the College’s speech code for both student and faculty conduct. In a recent news article, FIRE stated that all the College had to do was make a change to its Office of Equal Opportunity website and it would be promoted to "green light" status. According to College Spokesman Brian Whitson, the administration has decided to make that change.

The College’s Office of Equal Opportunity maintains a page on "discrimination" that, according to FIRE, "explicitly includes protected expression as examples of harassment." FIRE is in complete agreement with the definition of harassment given on the website, but takes issue with the examples of harassment provided on the website, claiming that they do not match the definition. FIRE suggested that the administration leave that definition up, but remove the list of examples of harassment.

FIRE never contacted the administration of the College directly. However, the College was already in the process of reviewing the website prior to FIRE’s suggestion to revise it. President Reveley asked that this process be expedited and the decision has been made to remove the examples in question from the website.

The administration has already made several changes to policies regarding speech in the code of conduct recently, including eliminating a ban on anonymous postings and modifying an internet usage policy that prohibited any "unsolicited messages which contain profane language or which pander to bigotry, sexism or other forms of discrimination."

Former Student Assembly Student Rights Secretary Braum Katz (’10) first brought the issue of free-speech-stifling policies to the administration’s attention in the Spring of 2008 after the controversy over the Sex Workers’ Art Show. In the aftermath of the show, it became apparent to Katz "just how unaware students are as to the full extent of their First Amendment rights." This realization was a catalyst for his new mission: "I decided that I wanted to educate fellow students about free speech and work proactively to make the College a more free-speech friendly campus." As part of that mission, Katz says, "I sat down with the code of conduct and rewrote the policies in such a way to make them constitutionally acceptable." Katz then presented his revised versions of the code of conduct policies to the administration. Katz’s action, combined with the pressure placed on the administration by FIRE, played a large role in their ultimate decision to revise the code of conduct.

Schools: The College of William and Mary