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Alumni activists rally for free speech at James Madison University 

James Madison University campus

Steve Heap /

The Madison Cabinet for Free Speech and Accountability at James Madison University is the latest alumni group to demonstrate its belief in free speech to its alma mater. 

The alumni behind the Madison Cabinet came together because of their shared concerns about JMU’s restrictive speech codes, limited viewpoint diversity, and lack of transparency in university governance. Beyond speaking out about these issues, these graduates intend to petition the school to uphold its First Amendment obligations as a public university.

The free speech climate at JMU has worsened in the last ten years. The university’s speech codes receive a “yellow light” rating from FIRE because of their ambiguity and susceptibility to misapplication in ways which might violate the expressive rights of the campus community. The Madison Cabinet is calling on JMU to revise its restrictive speech codes to better reflect the standards laid out in First Amendment law. The Madison Cabinet is especially disappointed in JMU’s yellow light rating because JMU once earned FIRE’s highest “green light” rating and was even listed on FIRE’s 2012 “Seven Best Colleges for Free Speech” list. They want JMU to get back to its free speech-friendly roots. 

We hope JMU will heed the Madison Cabinet’s requests and protect and preserve free expression for its faculty and students.

And thanks to support from the Alumni Free Speech Alliance, the Madison Cabinet is taking a stand for “free expression, academic freedom, and transparency in governance at James Madison University.” The Madison Cabinet is the fourth free speech alumni group to start in the state of Virginia, joining The Jefferson Council at the University of Virginia, The Generals Redoubt at Washington and Lee University, and The Cadet Foundation at the Virginia Military Institute. 

Jim Bacon, executive director of the Jefferson Council at the University of Virginia, said, “The Madison Cabinet represents a huge step forward for the alumni movement in Virginia,” and pointed out that multiple alumni groups, “fighting for free expression and intellectual diversity will have far more clout . . . than one alone.”

Members of the Madison Cabinet want JMU President Jonathan R. Alger to uphold the First Amendment rights of students and faculty. In that spirit, they’ve encouraged the JMU administration to adopt the Chicago Statement, a commitment to free speech for the entire campus community. Further, they want Alger to remove speech-restrictive policies. These adjustments, they hope, will help restore JMU to its former glory.

If the group succeeds in its efforts, it won’t be the first free speech alumni group to make an impact with its advocacy. The Jefferson Council at the University of Virginia, for example, is hosting author and political commentator Douglas Murray, who will deliver an address on free speech. Members of Cornell Free Speech Alliance successfully petitioned their alma mater to bring free expression training to freshman orientation. And one of the largest alumni groups, the MIT Free Speech Alliance, is engaged in an ongoing campaign for the adoption of a free expression statement, now approved by the MIT faculty senate

We hope JMU will heed the Madison Cabinet’s requests and protect and preserve free expression for its faculty and students. Subscribe to the Madison Cabinet’s email list to join them in bringing free speech protections back to JMU, and check out FIRE’s alumni page for more information about joining the alumni movement at your alma mater. 

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