George Mason University

Location: Fairfax, Virginia
Type: Public
Federal Circuit: 4th Circuit

Speech Code Rating

George Mason University has been given the speech code rating Yellow. Yellow light colleges and universities are those institutions with at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application. Read more here.

  • Phi Beta Kappa: Member Institutions’ Speech Codes

    November 29, 2005

    When George Mason University cancelled a speech by filmmaker Michael Moore, the Phi Beta Kappa Society denied George Mason University’s application for a campus chapter of the honor society, citing academic freedom concerns. Given the Society’s professed commitment to freedom of speech, FIRE wrote to Phi Beta Kappa Secretary John Churchill to point out the speech codes that abound at Phi Beta Kappa member institutions. FIRE’s letter specifically called attention to outrageous codes at Cornell University, Oberlin College, The Ohio State University, Penn State University, Rhodes College, theUniversity of Illinois at Chicago, and West Virginia University. Given Phi Beta Kappa’s stance on GMU, it seems reasonable to assume that the society would […]

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  • George Mason University: Unconstitutional Policies and Suppression of Dissent

    October 27, 2005

    GMU student and Air Force veteran Tariq Khan protested military recruiters on campus by silently standing near their table with a “Recruiters Lie” sign taped to his chest while passing out handbills. According to witnesses, a student assaulted Khan and took his sign within less than 30 minutes. Yet the police arrested Khan, not the other students involved in the ensuing fracas, allegedly because he had violated GMU Policy 1110. The ACLU of Virginia came to Khan’s legal aid, and FIRE discovered that GMU maintains several unconstitutional policies limiting freedom of expression. FIRE wrote GMU President Alan G. Merten, pointing […]

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FIRE Speech Code Memorandum for George Mason University

Yellow Light Policies
  • University Policies: Poster Posting Policy 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Posting Policies, Statement

    No information or advertising will be posted that is inconsistent with the educational mission of the University or that has not received prior authorization in accordance with this policy.

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  • Residential Student Handbook: Posting Policies 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Posting Policies, Statement

    Materials which meet the following criteria may be posted in the residence halls: ... The signage may not include content so severe and pervasive and objectionably offensive that it
    effectively creates a hostile environment.

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  • Code of Student Conduct: Acts of Misconduct 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies, Statement

    Any unwelcome sexual behavior and/or all forms of sexual misconduct including but not limited to: ... Conduct of a sexual nature that expressly or implicitly imposes conditions upon, threatens, interferes
    with, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or demeaning environment for an individual’s participation in
    any aspect of university life.

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  • Code of Student Conduct: Acts of Misconduct 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies, Statement

    Communicating verbally either directly or indirectly through
    another party, by telephone, regular or electronic mail, voice mail or any verbal, mechanical, electronic or written communication in a manner likely to cause causes injury, distress, or emotional or physical
    discomfort is also prohibited ....

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  • Vending Sales and Solicitation Procedures 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Protest and Demonstration Policies, Statement

    Commercial and Non-Commercial leafleting is only permitted in designated areas and requires a
    leafleting permit, which can be acquired at Student Centers (JC, Room 324, Monday - Friday,
    8:30am-5pm). A copy of any materials to be distributed must be tendered to Student Centers
    during regular operating hours at least 24 hours prior to the leafleting activity and must bear the
    name of the sponsoring organization or individual(s). All leafleting participants must carry a
    copy of the permit on their person and be able to present the permit if requested by a University

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Green Light Policies
  • Code of Student Conduct: Statement on Freedom of Expression 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression, Statement

    [A]ll members of the George Mason University community
    enjoy the right to freedom of speech and expression.

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  • Residential Student Handbook: Harassment 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies, Statement

    OHRL will not tolerate a hostile environment created by conduct so severe, pervasive, and
    objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to educational opportunity or benefit.

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  • University Policies: Sexual Harassment Policy 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies, Statement

    Sexual harassment is defined by law as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, physical, or other form of expressive communication of a sexual nature, when submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as a basis for employment or academic decisions, or such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work or academic performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or sexually offensive work or academic environment.

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  • You Can’t Say That Here — This Is a University!

    November 2, 2010

    by A. Barton Hinkle Richmond Times-Dispatch Teresa Sullivan has been in the president’s office for only a brief period, but the University of Virginia already has made a tremendous improvement on her watch. The Foundation for Individ ual Rights in Education (FIRE), an organization dedicated to protecting free speech on campus, reports that it has conferred its green-light award on Mr. Jefferson’s university. UVa thereby becomes one of only 13 colleges in the nation — William & Mary is another — to receive the rare designation, which the Charlottesville school earned by revising its egregious speech codes. Those speech codes […]

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  • Clash of campus freedom, civility

    December 11, 2005

    When Tariq Khan staged a one-man demonstration against military recruiters, he felt safe because he was on a college campus. Then he was arrested. “When the police officer started to handcuff me, I was pretty surprised,” Khan said last week. “Usually we tend to think of college campuses as sort of safe havens for this type of thing, for people who want to raise consciousness about controversial issues.” Most colleges and universities, whether public or private, pride themselves on adhering to principles of free speech and expression as protected by the First Amendment. But at many schools, the practical problem […]

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  • Pariahs, Martyrs — and Fighters Back

    October 24, 2005

    At the start of the last school year, activists at DePaul University set up a pair of tables along a student thoroughfare and distributed literature to passers-by. They caught the eye of faculty member Thomas Klocek, who took one of their handouts and read about Israel’s “brutal and murderous occupation” of “Palestine” as well as its “apartheid violence” in the West Bank and Gaza. This was provocative stuff — but nothing out of the ordinary for the two groups behind it all, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and United Muslims Moving Ahead (UMMA). Engaging the students in a discussion […]

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  • Campus Hourglass

    March 17, 2004

    Who will guard the guardians? This common saying applies to American higher education, where professors and administrators are normally exempt from the scrutiny given to other public institutions. A tradition of academic freedom, flowing from the belief that the faculty’s training in their academic disciplines equips them to decide what to teach, has protected the autonomy of American colleges and universities and helped make them the envy of the world. But the principle of academic freedom can be subject to abuse, particularly in personnel and curricular matters, where personal and ideological agendas can intrude in such a way, ironically, to […]

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  • Free speech dilemmas; Free speech ‘zones’ and ‘codes’ go from campus to court

    January 12, 2004

    The free speech wars continue to be waged on university campuses, producing their fair share of First Amendment litigation.While campus “speech codes” that discipline students for offensive or so-called “politically incorrect” speech have been roundly condemned by the courts, they are still generating controversy.But still to be tested are “free speech zones,” which confine free speech activities to a specific area of a campus. Such zones are vulnerable to challenge if used as a kind of banishment that isolates speakers from their intended audience.Greg C. Lukianoff, director of legal and public advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, […]

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  • George Mason University President: Unfettered Dialogue Empowers Students

    December 19, 2013

    There is another controversy related to Middle East politics on a college campus, this time at the George Mason University (GMU) main campus. (Disclosure: I am an adjunct legal writing instructor at the GMU law school.) But in this case, the participants appear committed to a constructive debate over whether the university should honor Israeli businesswoman and philanthropist Shari Arison as the commencement speaker at the winter graduation ceremony. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, the group GMU Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) has circulated an open letter stating that Ms. Arison’s business consortium finances projects in Israel that harm Palestinians and therefore […]

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  • Getting It Right: Dean of George Mason Law Sets Excellent Example

    October 4, 2011

    All too often here at FIRE, we find ourselves up to our necks in campus censorship. For example, in just the last few weeks, we’ve seen a professor threatened by campus police for posting a sci-fi quote and a coalition of student groups silenced by a professor who didn’t like their free speech wall. Of course, FIRE fights hard to correct these wrongs. But sometimes the constant stream of rights violations on campus gets a little depressing, to be honest. So that’s why it’s a real pleasure to come across a sterling example of how a school should react when […]

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  • Virginia Newspaper Touts Growing Number of ‘Green Light’ Schools

    February 8, 2011

    With only 14 “green light” colleges and universities in the entire country, the state of Virginia should be proud to be home to two of them. Writing in the Daily Press (Hampton Roads, Va.), Michael F. Cochrane commends the University of Virginia (UVa) and The College of William & Mary for preserving free speech on campus: As Virginians we can be justly proud that our state has some of the top colleges and universities in the nation. We have colleges that are ranked nationally in sports and academic achievement. But now we have a new reason for pride: The Foundation […]

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  • ‘Volokh Conspiracy’ and Local Media Decry Virginia Speech Codes

    November 3, 2010

    Ever since the University of Virginia (UVa) eliminated all four of its speech codes to earn FIRE’s coveted “green light” rating, local and national media have put the spotlight on the speech codes remaining at other public universities in Virginia. When FIRE announced the news, we noted that UVa joins The College of William & Mary as two Virginia institutions in an elite group of 13 “green light” schools and that we are now turning our attention to three more Virginia public universities: George Mason, rated “red light,” and James Madison and Virginia Tech, both rated “yellow light.” How bad for free speech are these three […]

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  • What Would the Founders Think of the Modern University?

    July 9, 2008

    (Maggie Rackl is a senior at the College of Charleston, where she majors in History with a minor in Asian Studies, and a 2008 FIRE Summer Intern.) In my experience, a favorite question of college and university admissions applications is the classic, “If you could go to dinner with any one person, living or dead, who would it be and what would you discuss?” As much of a groaner as this question is, I find it particularly fun to imagine chatting with any one of the many founders of our nation over plates of meat and potatoes and steins of […]

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  • At George Mason, Student Editors Decry School’s Speech Code

    September 26, 2007

    The editors of The Broadside, George Mason University’s student newspaper, have sharp words for their school’s unconstitutional speech code in an editorial published in yesterday’s edition.   The Broadside editors write: Mason is a public university; it has no business enforcing rules that restrict first amendment speech. Its only defense is that these policies, in some intangible way, enforce diversity. This is pure fallacy. When Mason students fear to say what they believe, the result is deadly to campus life and student thought. True diversity on campus can only stem from one thing, a diversity of thought. Mason must dissolve […]

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  • Offensive Halloween Costumes and Censorship

    October 31, 2006

    Halloween is upon us and college students all across the country will be celebrating this day by dressing up in a wide array of costumes. While some students will probably stick to classic costumes such as ghosts and vampires, some others may be thinking about slipping into scarier, more politically incorrect costumes this Halloween. For instance, in 2005, at the University of Chicago a group of students found themselves in trouble for holding a “Straight Thuggin’ Party” where students listened to rap music and dressed in hip-hop attire. Should students be afraid of disciplinary action for wearing potentially offensive Halloween costumes? […]

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  • There Is No Such Thing as ‘Hate Speech’

    February 24, 2006

    Yes, that is correct. “Hate speech” is not a category of speech recognized under current constitutional law. It is merely a convenient way to pigeonhole speech that some people find offensive. But what is very troubling is when people begin to treat “hate speech” as unprotected speech. For example, a student leader at Penn State, a university which was recently sued for its unconstitutionally vague and overbroad speech codes, made the following comment featured in a prominent article in the student newspaper The Daily Collegian: “We support any and all university policies that prohibit intolerant actions against any student on […]

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  • Clarification on PBK’s Double Standard

    February 3, 2006

    In a blog last week, I explained that the honor society Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) does not support schools like evangelical Wheaton College, which recently fired a professor for converting to Catholicism. I made the assertion that if PBK claims to support academic freedom, it should stand up to its many member institutions that have “immoral or even illegal speech codes.” One reader of The Torch interpreted that blog as my calling Wheaton’s actions immoral. He wrote: [T]he right of free speech…is not absolute when it comes to employment at a PRIVATE university. Private universities have the moral right to […]

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  • Censorship is Everybody’s Problem

    December 29, 2005

    FIRE’s press release from yesterday details some of the cases that made 2005 FIRE’s busiest year ever. If 2005 made anything clear, it is that no student, regardless of his or her views, is safe from censorship on today’s college and university campuses. This year, we intervened on behalf of students censored for expressing viewpoints spanning the political spectrum: Seminole Community College in Florida refused to allow a student to distribute literature from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. After FIRE intervened, the college changed course and allowed the student to distribute her literature. Northeastern Illinois University decided to […]

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  • FIRE’s Work Lauded in Newspapers Nationwide

    December 12, 2005

    It’s been a good couple of days for Justice Brandeis’ maxim that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Thanks to articles in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, news of FIRE’s efforts to disinfect the swamps of repression currently passing for American universities is reaching an ever-increasing number of people.   On Sunday, The New York Times covered our recent victory at William Paterson University. (Read it at the Times website if you are a TimesSelect subscriber.) The article by Peter Applebome ran on the front page of the Metro section and thoroughly denounced […]

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  • A new wave of PC on campus

    December 12, 2005

    ALAN TEMES, an assistant professor of health and physical education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, was getting good reviews on the job until his politics became an issue. Temes, who opposes the war in Iraq, began posting updates of the body count of US soldiers and Iraqi civilians on a bulletin board near his office. Last April, department chair Elaine Blair e-mailed Temes advising him to stop posting the notices. Then, Temes claims in a lawsuit, she warned him that continued antiwar protests would hurt his chances of getting tenure. Later, he was denied tenure, despite apparently meeting the qualifications […]

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  • Phi Beta Kappa Can Do Better

    December 2, 2005

    Earlier this week, FIRE wrote Phi Beta Kappa a letter encouraging the organization to join the fight against censorship and repression at some of America’s most prestigious colleges and universities. Although FIRE has received no formal response from Phi Beta Kappa, the organization has made several comments to the press indicating that it is not particularly interested in addressing the problem of speech codes at its member institutions. Those comments fall along two lines: first, that Phi Beta Kappa’s decision to reject George Mason University’s application was not based on academic freedom grounds; and second, that Phi Beta Kappa is […]

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  • FIRE Challenges Phi Beta Kappa to Stand Up for Free Speech

    November 30, 2005

    Most people will tell you that they support free speech. When people ask me what I do and I tell them I work for a free speech organization, the reaction is almost uniformly positive. Everyone seems to like the Bill of Rights, at least in theory. Dig a little deeper, however, and the waters become muddy. People don’t always see what’s wrong with policies intended to protect students from hurtful, offensive remarks. Yes, we support free speech, they say, but free speech doesn’t mean that people have the right to just go around offending other people.   The Phi Beta […]

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  • Policies Actually Matter; Don’t Be Deceived

    November 17, 2005

    Why, you may ask, does the fine staff at FIRE spend its days hunting down unconstitutional speech codes and disputing unjust university policies? Unjust university policies, as it turns out, lead to actual violations of students’ constitutional and human rights. As today’s press release shows, such policies at George Mason University (GMU) led to the September arrest of a peaceful protestor, even though he was the victim of a not-so-peaceful assault by a fellow student. GMU gained notoriety earlier this fall when student and Air Force veteran Tariq Khan objected to military recruiting at GMU by standing next to a […]

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  • FIRE Challenges Unconstitutional Policies at George Mason University

    November 17, 2005

    FAIRFAX, Va., November 17, 2005—The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is challenging unconstitutional policies at George Mason University (GMU). Earlier this fall, such policies led to the arrest of a GMU student who was protesting military recruiters on its Northern Virginia campus. “GMU’s unconstitutional policies make it no surprise that a peaceful student protestor was arrested,” remarked FIRE President David French. “The distribution of posters, handbills, and newspapers was critical to our nation’s fight for independence. It is a shame that GMU, a public university named for one of America’s founders, restricts the right to do the very […]

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  • McMasters on the Free Speech Controversy at George Mason University

    October 24, 2005

    Paul K. McMasters, renowned First Amendment expert and member of the Board of Editors for FIRE’s Guides to Student Rights on Campus series, has published an important piece (with an equally great title, “Fear of Dissent Is a Fear of Freedom”) on the recent controversy over student protests of military recruiters. The most notable case was at George Mason University in Virginia.   As Paul explains: Late last month, a junior sociology major at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., silently stationed himself near a military recruiters’ table on campus. The student, Tariq Khan, is a Pakistani-American and a four-year […]

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  • The Lone Pine Revolution

    May 14, 2005

    Two bespectacled, suit-wearing academics make for unlikely revolutionaries. However, the election of Hoover Institution fellow Peter Robinson ’79 and George Mason University law professor Todd Zywicki ’88 to Dartmouth College’s Board of Trustees, announced Thursday, is perhaps the most significant event in the institution’s recent history. Most Trustee elections at Dartmouth, like those to most corporate boards, are low-key affairs, marked by apathy. But not this one. Just to earn a place on the Trustee election ballot, Robinson and Zywicki each had to collect 500 alumni signatures on a petition. They next fought back a spirited opposition from the four […]

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  • Freer Speech at Dartmouth?

    May 10, 2005

    Can speech that hurts feelings get you in trouble at Dartmouth College? That’s what libertarian critics of the college have been charging for some time, saying that the college has a speech code that squelches free expression. Dartmouth has said that its policies have been distorted. But this month, the college clarified its stance and at least some of its critics now say that the college no longer has policies that inhibit free speech on the campus. The clarification comes as the college is counting the votes in a trustee election in which the college’s speech policies were a major […]

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  • The Dartmouth Insurgency

    April 25, 2005

    IF YOU’RE NOT A DARTMOUTH alum, there are still two reasons to care about this year’s alumni trustee election: Peter Robinson and Todd Zywicki, who are running as insurgents. Robinson is an author and Hoover Institution scholar best known for penning Ronald Reagan’s Berlin Wall speech in 1987. Zywicki is a George Mason University law professor and blogger for the popular Volokh Conspiracy site. They are Dartmouth grads–classes of 1979 and 1988, respectively. Each launched a petition drive last winter to get his name on the 2005 alumni trustee ballot, using Internet-assisted word-of-mouth to collect the required 500 signatures. Both […]

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  • Practical Advice for Fraternities Caught in the Battle for Free Speech on Campus

    September 16, 2004

    I. Introduction While there is no shortage of free speech battles on college campuses, fraternities have the dubious honor of being at the center of many of the least sympathetic controversies. From Halloween parties where brothers show up dressed as Ku Klux Klan members to fraternity newsletters that graphically relate a brother’s sexual exploits with named co-eds, fraternities sometimes express themselves in ways that are not exactly likely to win the battle for hearts and minds. However, although fraternities may later regret the actions of some of their brothers, they must not allow their rights to be stripped away by […]

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