West Virginia University: Limit on Speech to Campus “Free Speech Zones”

Category: Cases, Free Speech
Schools: West Virginia University

West Virginia University (WVU) has abandoned a notorious and chilling policy that quarantined free expression to two small areas of campus. FIRE first learned of WVU’s censorship zones from two WVU students, Michael Bomford and Matthew Poe, in November 2001. The students, who founded the West Virginia University Free Speech Consortium, have publicly criticized the policy since late 2000, when campus police first prohibited the distribution of protest literature. The campus police cited WVU’s policy, which identified only "two designated areas for free speech and assembly"- outlawing these rights on ninety-nine percent of the campus. FIRE wrote WVU President David C. Hardesty, Jr. and urged him "to tear down the barriers to speech and declare all of WVU a ‘Free Speech Zone.’" WVU’s Board of Governors finally replaced its policy with one that recognized free speech rights. The new policy officially abolished censorship zones, stating, "Assemblies of persons may occur on any grounds on the campus outside of buildings."

  • Education quality more important than marketing

    May 18, 2007

    When faculty and the Board of Governors sparred recently over the appointment of Morgantown lawyer Mike Garrison as president of West Virginia University, many saw it as a fight for the guiding principles of the school. At stake is whether WVU will act as a corporation or an educational institution. During David Hardesty’s 12-year reign, WVU operated as a corporation, overly concerned with marketing, brand management and increasing cash flow. Many, including the faculty, argue the school has lost sight of its founding principles to serve the educational needs of West Virginians. As a WVU alumna who has experienced Hardesty’s […]

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  • UNCG in free speech battle

    December 17, 2005

    Two UNC-Greensboro students face discipline for protesting outside the university’s designated “free speech and assembly areas,” based on a policy that a national civil liberties organization calls unconstitutional. The students, Allison Jaynes and Robert Sinnott, were charged with a “violation of respect” under the student code of conduct at UNC-Greensboro after a Nov. 16 protest attended by about 40 people. The two students face disciplinary action that could range from a warning to a probation with restrictions. The demonstration outside the library by UNCG College Libertarians was aimed specifically at the university’s policy governing the location of protests on campus. […]

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  • Students to protest UNCG’s free speech zones

    November 15, 2005

    The two places UNCG has designated free-speech zones do not meet the approval of some student political groups who also object to notifying administrators 48 hours in advance to use the small, overgrown areas. A coalition of activist organizations, from the College Libertarians to the campus International Socialist Organization, plans to protest the school’s policy Wednesday. The College Democrats and Republicans have also joined the cause, which was spearheaded by the Libertarians. Organizers said leaders of the Guilford County Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties might speak at the event. School policy dictates that protests and student group gatherings occur in […]

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  • WVU labeled ‘red light’ school over free speech

    September 24, 2005

    MORGANTOWN – Under pressure from a lawsuit and student/faculty protests, West Virginia University abandoned a “free speech zone” policy that limited public debate to certain areas on campus in 2002. But nearly three years later, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) calls the school a “red light” university when it comes to free speech. So why is FIRE putting its brakes on when it comes to WVU? “There are two primary ways in which speech codes violate the First Amendment: One, by being over broad and two, by being vague,” Samantha Harris, a program officer at FIRE said. […]

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  • A space for speech

    April 28, 2003

    By Sarah Muench, Web Devil (Arizona State University)

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  • Issues of free speech confronted at colleges

    April 17, 2003

    The Water Buffalo incident may be 10 years in the past, but the future of free speech remains hazy at colleges and universities from coast to coast. Penn’s own speech code was called into question in the spring of 1993, when then-College freshman Eden Jacobowitz was charged with racial harassment for shouting, “Shut up, you water buffalo,” at 15 black sorority sisters dancing under his high rise window in the wee hours of the morning. The right not to be offended and the right to freedom of expression apparently continue to do battle in almost every state in the union. […]

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  • West Virginia U. Abolishes Campus Free Speech Zones

    December 9, 2002

    By Debrah Bonn at The Daily Texan Students at West Virginia University can now picket, demonstrate or hand out fliers wherever they please, a freedom not allowed prior to Nov. 8. After two years packed with debate and protest, the university scrapped its old free-speech policy in favor of one that allows students more choices on where they can express their opinions. The previous policy, put into place during the Vietnam era, said Bill Nevin, external communications manager for the university, allowed just two “free speech zones” on campus where groups could assemble. Under the new policy, the entire university campus is […]

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  • WVU Ends ‘Free-Speech Zones’

    November 17, 2002

    By Bill Steigerwald at Pittsburgh Sunday Tribune-Review Students at West Virginia University are now free to practice First Amendment rights on their entire campus. Until nine days ago, WVU’s 22,000 undergrads — like students at hundreds of other colleges whose restrictive free-speech policies have raised the ire of civil libertarians — were able to practice their First Amendment rights only on about 5 percent of the campus. It took months of protests from students and faculty, plus legal pressure from civil libertarian watchdog groups such as the Rutherford Institute and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) to liberate the […]

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  • WVU Eases Campus-Speech Rules

    November 12, 2002

    By Ellen Sorokin at The Washington Times Protests and political discourse are no longer restricted at West Virginia University, where officials have abandoned a policy that limited public debate on campus to designated “free-speech zones.” WVU’s Board of Governors discarded the policy Friday after months of protests by students and faculty, and a lawsuit filed by civil libertarians who said the policy violated First Amendment rights. “Large groups under the policy are free to meet wherever they want to, and as long as people act in a responsible manner, I have no concerns whatsoever,” said Thomas Dorer, a WVU general counsel, in an […]

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  • Lawsuits, debate intensify over university ‘free speech zones’

    October 1, 2002

    The battle over controversial “free speech zones” on public university campuses continues to gather momentum as the lawsuits against the widely used zones multiply across the nation.   Several universities from Florida to Texas have encountered legal trouble as student groups, joined by national rights advocation organizations, claim that limiting demonstration to specific zones infringes on First Amendment rights.   Free speech zones are carefully drawn out areas where students or groups can hold rallies. Depending on the campus, administration allows varying amounts of demonstration outside these areas.   The main argument behind the policy is that noisy protest can […]

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  • Boxing-in the Bill of Rights

    September 30, 2002

    Fall 2002

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  • WVU Students Mourn Death of Free Speech

    May 13, 2002

    By Vicki Smith at The Associated Press State & Local Wire Mourning the loss of free speech on campus, West Virginia University students dressed in black, marched to a somber drumbeat and laid a copy of the First Amendment to rest Monday in a newspaperwrapped coffin. About 18 students participated in the Free Speech Consortium protest, which came as the Faculty Senate endorsed a policy limiting student gatherings and demonstrations to seven “free expression areas.” “Like an endangered species, the habitat of free speech is shrinking,” senior Helena Triplett said during her eulogy. “It is not until we try to move that […]

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  • WVU Students are at Greater Liberty to Protest

    May 12, 2002

    By Mary Kershaw at USA Today West Virginia University’s faculty senate is expected Monday to endorse revisions to the school’s policy on limiting student protests to designated “free speech zones.” The old policy restricted student demonstrations to two outdoor zones the size of small classrooms. Students demonstrated against the policy last winter, saying that they had a right to protest anywhere on campus. In February, 50 students gathered in front of the student union and marched through campus with an Abe Lincoln look-alike leading the way. “We needed to let the administration know that a lot of people felt the free speech […]

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  • College students protest against so-called free speech zones at their campuses, saying that they violate their First Amendment rights

    April 26, 2002

    BOB EDWARDS, host:   Some student activists are finding a large portion of university campuses off-limits to protests. Schools with so-called free speech zones limit the outspoken to just a few places on campus. Administrators say the zones balance free speech and the need for order on campus. But some students at West Virginia University say the zones violate their First Amendment rights. Jeff Young of West Virginia Public Radio reports.   JEFF YOUNG reporting:   West Virginia University student activist Matthew Poe wanted to hand out flyers about corporations and human rights, but Poe instead got a lesson about […]

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  • Groups Fight West Virginia U. Speech Policy

    April 18, 2002

    By Grant Smith at University Wire Two national civil liberties groups have joined a fight for a more liberal free speech policy at West Virginia University. Letters were sent to WVU President David Hardesty and other University officials from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Rutherford Institute, calling for a more liberal policy. Both groups reviewed the interim policy at the request of Students for Economic Justice. “The policy, as long as it doesn’t allow for demonstrators to direct their speech at the intended audience, is flatly unconstitutional,” Greg Lukianoff, FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy said. […]

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  • WVU Free Speech Policy Called Better But Not Perfect

    April 15, 2002

    The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A civil rights group says West Virginia University’s new free speech policy is an improvement but still far from ideal. The interim policy expands an earlier one that gave students just two small areas on campus in which to gather for protests and demonstrations. Students now have seven “free expression areas” but they must make reservations at least 24 hours in advance for activities scheduled outside normal business hours “and/or that are anticipated to attract over 50 attendants,” the policy says. The policy “substantially improves the environment for discourse at WVU,” said Greg Lukianoff, […]

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  • In the Zone

    March 25, 2002

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  • WVU Students Protest Free Speech Zones on Campus

    February 12, 2002

    By Vicki Smith at The Associated Press State & Local Wire Led by an Abe Lincoln lookalike, dozens of students paraded around the West Virginia University campus Tuesday, protesting a decades-old policy that limits free speech to two outdoor areas the size of small classrooms. They timed their demonstration to coincide with Lincoln’s birthday, Black History Month and WVU Gay Pride Week, arguing the zones are not only unconstitutional, but also inadequate for a school with more than 20,000 students. “The First Amendment and other laws on the books cover free speech. There’s no need to keep us penned into zones,” […]

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  • First Amendment only free speech policy needed

    February 11, 2002

    On Feb. 12, the Students for Economic Justice, in coalition with a variety of groups across the political spectrum, will protest the restriction of free speech at West Virginia University. The purpose of this column is to express support for that protest, and to explain to the University community how free speech is being squelched at WVU.   Free speech being squelched at WVU? What am I talking about? Surely, one might think, everyone acknowledges that free speech is essential to the life of a university. And so one might think that WVU would be committed to the right to […]

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  • This Month in FIRE History: The End of a Free Speech Zone at West Virginia University

    December 28, 2009

    Seven years ago this month, FIRE won our first victory against a so-called “free speech zone” at West Virginia University. The policy, which quarantined free expression to two small areas of campus, was brought to FIRE’s attention by the leaders of the West Virginia University Free Speech Consortium, Michael Bomford and Matthew Poe. It took many letters, a public exposure campaign, and a lawsuit from the Rutherford Institute for the university to adopt a new policy that declared all of campus a “free speech zone.” Since that time, FIRE has defeated similar free speech zones on campuses across the nation, […]

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