Victory for Free Speech as College of William & Mary Dumps Speech Codes, Earns ‘Green Light’ Rating

October 12, 2009

WILLIAMSBURG, Va., October 12, 2009—The College of William & Mary has fully reformed its campus speech policies to ensure that students and faculty may freely exercise their right to freedom of expression at our nation’s second-oldest university. Honoring these commendable reforms, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is pleased to announce the school’s “green light” rating, given only to those institutions whose policies fully protect free speech. This rating in Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource—FIRE’s comprehensive database of speech restrictions at our nation’s colleges and universities—makes William & Mary one of just eleven schools to receive a “green light” out of about 400 surveyed.

“By making the changes necessary to guarantee the First Amendment rights of faculty and students at William & Mary, President Taylor Reveley has stood up for free expression in a way that far too few of his counterparts have done,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “William & Mary students, faculty, and alumni should be proud of their school today for recognizing that speech codes have no place on college campuses. We hope that more schools will follow William & Mary’s example.”

Led in significant part by the tireless efforts of William & Mary (W&M) senior, Campus Freedom Network member, and former FIRE intern Braum Katz, W&M has revised several policies in the past two years. First, the college significantly altered a “Bias Incident Reporting System” that had allowed for anonymous reporting of constitutionally protected expression. Recently, W&M revised an Internet usage policy that prohibited any “unsolicited messages which contain profane language or which pander to bigotry, sexism or other forms of discrimination” and eliminated a prohibition on anonymous speech on campus.

W&M then earned FIRE’s green-light rating after President Reveley ordered the expedited revision of a discrimination policy published on a website maintained by the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity. The policy had named instances of protected expression as examples of harassment. After Reveley’s intervention, the examples were removed. This latest revision points the way for other universities to protect expression that they are legally and morally obligated to protect, as W&M has done.

“I am extremely proud of all the work that the students and administration of the College of William & Mary have done together to ensure that no student need fear exercising his or her First Amendment rights,” Katz said. “The efforts of William & Mary students to green-light the university demonstrates that when students make demands grounded in both law and moral integrity, administrations will listen and policies can change. These changes represent in a very palpable way the spirit of our College, the alma mater of some of our nation’s premier civil libertarians.”

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.

CONTACT:
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 212-582-3191; greg@thefire.org
Brian Whitson, Director of University Relations, The College of William & Mary: bwhit@wm.edu