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Despite Progress, Virginia Shows Room for Improvement

Virginia’s been getting some pretty positive press from FIRE lately: the Commonwealth has three of the nation’s 16 “green light” schools, and its legislature is considering bills that would safeguard student rights by eliminating “free speech zones” and allowing students to hire legal counsel for serious non-academic misconduct hearings on campus. And last year, Virginia passed a law protecting religious pluralism on campus.

But despite the good news, some of Virginia’s colleges and universities still maintain policies that clearly and substantially restrict speech, earning them a “red light” rating in FIRE’s Spotlight database. A. Barton Hinkle took note of these institutions and points to some of their more egregious policies today in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Hinkle writes:

The colleges receiving poor marks impose a combination of speech codes and prior restraint. For instance: At Christopher Newport [University], students are forbidden to post anything that might be deemed “disrespectful.” And anyone “wishing to exercise their freedom of speech ... must register with the Dean of Students at least 24 hours in advance.”


Virginia Commonwealth University? It prohibits “humor and jokes about sex that denigrate women or men in general.” And last month, Virginia State University earned the dubious distinction of making FIRE’s “Speech Codes of the Year” list. Its code of conduct says no student may “offend” any member of the university community.

Virginia institutions aren’t alone in enacting policies that restrict constitutionally protected speech—over half of schools nationwide earn a “red light” rating. But Virginia is poised to establish itself as a model for the rest of the country, if only it can bring its worst actors in line with its best ones.

Click over to the Richmond Times-Dispatch to read Hinkle’s article in full.

Image: Virginia State Capitol

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