The College of William and Mary

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

Speech Code Rating

The College of William and Mary has been given the speech code rating Green. Green light institutions are those colleges and universities whose policies nominally protect free speech. Read more here.

  • College of William and Mary: Suppression of Affirmative Action Bake Sale

    January 23, 2004

    A student group critical of William and Mary’s race-based affirmative action policies held an affirmative action bake sale parodying the school’s policies. The student group contacted FIRE after the administration decided to censor the group’s activity. After receiving much criticism in the media, the administration relented and allowed a second bake sale, but would not admit any wrongdoing.

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Yellow Light Policies
  • Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation Policy

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: August 23, 2016

    Harassment is unwelcome conduct based on an irrelevant personal factor.  Harassment violates this policy when it  creates a hostile environment.  A hostile environment exists when harassment has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with a person’s work or educational performance or participation in a university program or activity, or is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or educational environment.

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Green Light Policies
  • Student Handbook: Rights and Responsibilities- Rights, Privileges and Immunities

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression
    Last updated: August 23, 2016

    The members of the College community, as individuals, shall enjoy all rights, privileges, and immunities guaranteed every citizen of the United States and the commonwealth of Virginia. Among the basic rights are freedom of expression and belief, freedom of association and peaceful assembly ….

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  • Student Handbook: Student Code of Conduct – Conduct Affecting Persons

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: August 23, 2016

    Causing physical harm, threatening harm to any person, or behaving in a manner that a reasonable person would find alarming or intimidating. Negligent conduct that results in injury to others violates the Student Code.

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  • Acceptable Use Policy for Students

    Speech Code Category: Internet Usage Policies
    Last updated: August 23, 2016

    The following activities are prohibited:

    • Transmitting unsolicited messages which constitute obscenity, harassment or threats ….

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  • Use of Campus Facilities Policy

    Speech Code Category: Protest and Demonstration Policies
    Last updated: August 23, 2016

    A. Prior Scheduling Is Generally Required. Except for spontaneous activities permitted under paragraph B, below, groups and individuals desiring to use university space and facilities must submit requests through the Scheduling Office as far in advance as practical. Any requests not received sufficiently in advance to permit necessary evaluation and determine the appropriate location, applying the standards outlined in this section III, may be denied for that reason.

    B. Spontaneous Expressive Activities Permitted in Certain Circumstances and Locations. William & Mary employees, students, and recognized student organizations may engage in spontaneous or unscheduled expressive events and activities in two situations:

    • A number of areas are available, on a first-come-first-serve basis, for rallies, assemblies, demonstrations, vigils and other outdoor expressive activities without prior approval or scheduling. A current list of areas designated for spontaneous activities is available from the Scheduling Office.

    Spontaneous expressive activities may occur in other locations (a location other than those designated by the Scheduling Office) when advance scheduling is not practical, such as an activity responding to a university action, if (a) the designated locations are already in use or reserved for another activity, (b) the spontaneous activity is too large for the designated locations, or (c) the expressive value of the activity is significantly enhanced by it taking place in a different location, such as a protest against a specific office, which would be more powerful if held outside of or near to the office.

    If a spontaneous expressive activity does not satisfy these conditions, disrupts university operations or creates a safety hazard, university officials will require the activity to be relocated or rescheduled.

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  • Fit to Print: Campus Journalists Face Down Those who Want to Stop the Presses

    April 13, 2016

    By Matthew Kassel at Observer It has been a tumultuous year or so for student journalists. Around the country, they’ve have had to contend with campus protesters and school officials who frame the concept of a free press in opposition to notions of politically correct speech… Read more here.

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  • Examiner Local Editorial: Muzzling free speech on campus

    January 2, 2013

    One New Year’s resolution we’d like to see in 2013 is a renewed effort to uphold the First Amendment on college campuses. According to a new report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, 62 percent of the nation’s colleges and universities “maintain severely restrictive speech codes … that clearly and substantially prohibit protected speech.” FIRE noted that the overwhelming majority of speech is protected. But narrow exceptions (such as “fighting words,” obscenity and defamation) “are often misused and abused by universities to punish constitutionally protected speech.” Restrictions intended to protect students from harassment or bullying have been […]

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  • Higher ed: Laurels

    May 29, 2011

    Virginia’s colleges and universities have not always won laurels for their devotion to the cause of free speech. Indeed, in recent years some of them — such as George Mason and Virginia Tech — have come in for deserved criticism on that front. So it was encouraging to see two of the state’s leading institutions, UVa and William and Mary, listed among the seven best schools in the country for free speech. Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), presented the list in a recent article on The Huffington Post . FIRE’s advocacy is often […]

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  • The Seven Best Colleges For Free Speech

    May 23, 2011

    by Greg Lukianoff The Huffington Post   View this article at The Huffington Post.

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  • UVa plans to revise sexual misconduct policy

    May 5, 2011

    The University of Virginia plans to revise its sexual misconduct policy to broaden the scope of offenses and to lower the standard of evidence necessary to find a student guilty. Under the policy, sexual misconduct would become the umbrella term to include any unwelcome sexual behavior. The revision more precisely defines what constitutes assault, harassment and exploitation, including offenses such as cyberstalking, the recording of sexual images and the knowing transmission of a sexually transmitted infection. The policy also would eliminate the geographic limit on UVa’s jurisdiction, which under current policy covers university property or a student or employee residence […]

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  • First Amendment is safe at UVa, W&M

    February 5, 2011

    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 for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has identified the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary as two of only 13 colleges and universities in the country (in a total of 439 institutions) with “speech codes” that do not violate the provisions of the First Amendment of the Constitution. FIRE, an advocacy organization […]

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  • Administration makes final changes requested by FIRE

    October 4, 2009

    According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the College is on track for a “green light” designation. The “green light” designation is given to colleges and universities with free-speech-friendly policies. This designation would reflect the recent changes to the College’s speech code for both student and faculty conduct. In a recent news article, FIRE stated that all the College had to do was make a change to its Office of Equal Opportunity website and it would be promoted to “green light” status. According to College Spokesman Brian Whitson, the administration has decided to make that change. The […]

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  • FIRE labels College ‘red light’ school

    January 27, 2009

    by Kelly McEvoy The Flat Hat   The College of William and Mary has been labeled a “red light” school by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a Philadelphia-based organization dedicated to protecting and supporting the freedom of speech on college campuses, because of a clause in the Student Handbook’s code of conduct that requires posters to meet certain community standards. In December 2008, FIRE sent out letters to several hundred higher education administrators to warn that certain aspects of their institution’s policies may threaten the free speech rights of students and faculty, potentially making the administrators personally liable […]

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  • Don’t trust the Administration to protect your rights

    November 5, 2008

    For some time, this public institution has jeopardized students’ constitutional rights through a number of infamous dealings. The latest example of carelessness by the administration with regard to student rights involves Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Student Conduct David Gilbert. Over the summer, Dean Gilbert agreed to pass out packets compiled by Student Assembly members that provides information to students on their rights when charged with violations of College policy. The Informer learned that when a student was recently summoned to the Student Conduct office that not only was this packet not given out but that it had […]

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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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  • Academic freedom ever important

    April 11, 2005

    Besides really irritating a lot of people, University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill’s essay on the causes of the World Trade Center attacks has put a media spotlight on the issue of freedom of expression on college campuses. This in itself is a very good thing. Whatever one’s opinion of the content of Churchill’s essay (and some of the logic does sound highly suspect to me), he was well within his rights to release a controversial analysis of the attacks into the academic community. This ability to participate in an unrestricted exchange of ideas is called academic freedom, and it […]

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  • The Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today, and the Pasadena Star-News on FIRE

    March 3, 2004

    Universities still do not comprehend that their contempt for free speech places them far, far outside of the mainstream of American public opinion. In particular, they seem continually surprised that the media, who live or die by the Bill of Rights, understand freedom of expression full well. The March 1 lead editorial of The Philadelphia Inquirer, an editorial in today’s USA Today, and yet another editorial in the Pasadena Star-News offer a compelling textbook education, if academic administrators are willing to listen, in the relationship of higher education and freedom of speech.

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  • Student Defender Profile: Marvi Ali, chair of William & Mary’s Conduct and Honor Advisor Program

    July 18, 2017

    All this week, in honor of the debut of FIRE’s new Student Defenders program, we’ll be profiling students already involved in these initiatives at a handful of colleges and universities across the nation. While these groups are different at every school, student defenders are united by a common mission: helping peers accused of conduct violations navigate their school’s often confusing disciplinary systems. The student defenders we’ll introduce you to this week all told FIRE it’s important work that makes their campuses safer and fairer for everyone. They said practically anyone can get involved, and that more campuses would benefit from […]

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  • What comes next for students at ‘green light’ schools? Putting policy into practice.

    July 6, 2017

    FIRE has labeled my school, The College of William & Mary, a “green light” institution, meaning that we have policies supporting and protecting free speech on campus. I am proud of my school’s speech code rating; the prospect of being exposed to a wide range of ideas and perspectives is one of the reasons I chose to attend William & Mary in the first place. However, I’m sad to say that, at least in this respect, my actual experience at William & Mary has not lived up to my expectations. While we haven’t seen many of the distinct issues FIRE […]

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  • William & Mary’s ‘Flat Hat’ Champions Free Speech on Campus

    February 23, 2015

    FIRE’s Free Press Week may have been last week, but there is no shortage of examples of the value of a free student press. The latest proof of that comes from The College of William & Mary, where student newspaper The Flat Hat ran a terrific staff editorial on Thursday arguing against a proposal, submitted by William & Mary students to the college’s president and other officials, calling for a new bias incident policy. As the Flat Hat’s editorial board writes, if the proposed policy were to be adopted by William & Mary, it would threaten the college’s overall “green […]

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  • Introducing FIRE Summer Intern Brendan Zehner

    June 17, 2014

    Brendan Zehner is a rising senior at The College of William and Mary (W&M), where he is a double major in history and public policy. He comes to FIRE as a staunch believer in the First Amendment and he hopes to gain the skills to become a force to be reckoned with when it comes to student rights and due process.

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  • ‘Flat Hat’ Highlights William & Mary’s ‘Green Light’ Rating

    January 29, 2014

    The Flat Hat, the student newspaper at The College of William & Mary, points out this week that for yet another year, the university can boast of its “green light” rating for free speech. As The Flat Hat observes, William & Mary is one of an elite few institutions nationwide that maintain policies respecting free speech rights. Depressingly, 58.6% of the schools rated in FIRE’s Spotlight on Speech Codes 2014 report receive a “red light” rating for maintaining at least one clearly unconstitutional policy. The article correctly notes: The problem, for many schools, seems to be striking a balance between […]

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  • Some U. of Rochester Students Just Don’t Get How Free Speech Works

    April 12, 2013

    Last week, I told you about the kerfuffle happening at the University of Rochester, where a professor, Steven Landsburg, has come under fire for hypothetical situations involving rape that he presented in a personal blog post. I praised university administrators for resisting the all-too-common urge to censor or punish the professor’s controversial expression, particularly since it has received such negative attention from the public. However, it seems the drama isn’t over. According to The Huffington Post, more than 30 students protested outside Professor Landsburg’s class on Monday. While FIRE certainly recognizes the students’ right to protest ideas that they don’t […]

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  • William & Mary’s ‘Flat Hat’ Reminds Students: Freedom of Speech Must be Protected

    September 25, 2012

    Erlier this month, FIRE published our list of the seven best schools for free speech in 2012. On that list was The College of William & Mary, making its second appearance this year. However, as student newspaper The Flat Hat points out, the school’s history hasn’t always been free-speech friendly.  Carter Lockwood congratulates William & Mary on its appearance on our list but reminds the student body that in 2003, school administrators attempted to shut down an “affirmative action bake sale”—a decision that FIRE was instrumental in reversing. Also, in 2007, William & Mary implemented a Bias Incident Reporting system […]

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  • Praise for Free Speech at Virginia Schools in ‘Richmond Times-Dispatch’

    June 1, 2011

    In response to Greg’s article on The Huffington Post commending the nation’s seven best colleges and universities for freedom of speech, the Richmond Times-Dispatch has offered glowing praise for the two Virginia schools that made the list (the University of Virginia (UVa) and the College of William & Mary) and for FIRE’s efforts in combating censorship on campuses nationwide. The Dispatch illuminates one of the pillars we rely on so strongly to win cases: FIRE’s advocacy is often effective, and always nonpartisan – it condemns all attacks on intellectual freedom regardless of political or ideological slant. Noting the importance of this advocacy, the Dispatch […]

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  • FIRE Names Seven Best Schools for Free Speech on ‘Huffington Post’

    May 24, 2011

    PHILADELPHIA, May 24, 2011—Today the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) commends the nation’s seven best colleges and universities for freedom of speech in an article by FIRE President Greg Lukianoff on The Huffington Post. The colleges listed are Arizona State University, Dartmouth College, The College of William & Mary, the University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and the University of Virginia. “FIRE spends most of its time bringing much-needed attention to the sorry state of free speech for students and faculty on our nation’s campuses,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “Today, we wanted to […]

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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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  • New Video: William & Mary Alum Braum Katz Shares Tips on Getting Your School to ‘Green Light’

    November 10, 2010

    After his FIRE internship ended in the summer of 2007, Braum Katz left Philadelphia with a mission: to transform his school, The College of William & Mary, from a “red light” to a “green light” institution by reforming its unconstitutional campus policies. By rallying his fellow students and working in cooperation with the college administration, he succeeded, and William & Mary became a “green light” school in 2009. When he addressed students at the 2010 Campus Freedom Network (CFN) Conference this summer, Braum shared a few insights from his successful campaign: Look at your school’s policies in FIRE’s Spotlight database […]

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  • How Do You Keep a College Student from Drinking?

    September 20, 2010

    Ban the table the alcohol sits on, apparently: WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY)—The College of William & Mary is banning tables that can be used for beer pong. The college said they are making the change to support their ban on drinking games. … For years, William & Mary has banned drinking games on campus. A recent change to the student handbook now prohibits the tables, said college spokesperson Brian Whitson. “These are tables that are specifically decorated or designed for the specific use of beer pong,” said Whitson. While I have never actually played “beer pong,” I have seen it played, […]

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  • William & Mary Eliminates ‘Bias Incident Reporting System’; Trend Remains Popular Nationwide

    March 4, 2010

    The Virginia Informer reported yesterday that The College of William & Mary has removed its Bias Incident Reporting System from its website, bringing to a close a controversial chapter in William & Mary’s recent history. William & Mary first launched the Bias Incident Reporting System in the fall of 2007. In its initial incarnation, the system allowed students to anonymously report one another for any “hostile behavior that is directed at a member of the William and Mary community because of that person’s race, sex (including pregnancy), age, color, disability, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, religion, sexual orientation, or […]

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  • How Students Made a Difference for Liberty in 2009

    January 6, 2010

    For the past few days FIRE has been looking back over our list of accomplishments in 2009. That list would not be complete without mentioning the students who have worked so hard to make their campuses more free. At the College of William & Mary, former FIRE intern and Campus Freedom Network member Braum Katz led a reform effort from within the student government as Student Assembly Secretary of Student Rights to revise all constitutionally problematic speech codes. In October, William & Mary eliminated the last of its troublesome policies and FIRE officially gave the college’s policies a green-light rating in […]

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  • Rights in the News: With FIRE’s Help, Students Standing Up to Their Speech Codes

    October 16, 2009

    FIRE was elated to begin the week with the announcement that The College of William & Mary had reformed the last of its troublesome speech codes and become one of just eleven colleges to earn a “green light” rating in FIRE’s Spotlight database. Perhaps the fever has spread to neighboring James Madison University, where the focus has intensified on JMU’s policy on “Obscene Conduct” since it was named FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month. Not surprisingly, heightened awareness of the policy sowed discontent among the student body–enough so that this week JMU’s student newspaper The Breeze reported that JMU has […]

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  • College of William & Mary Reforms Speech Codes and Receives ‘Green Light’ Rating

    October 12, 2009

    It’s not often that FIRE gets to praise a university for acting to protect the free speech rights of its students and faculty members, but today we’re happy to announce that The College of William & Mary has eliminated the last of its problematic speech policies. Because of this respect for the First Amendment rights of W&M students and faculty, we have officially changed W&M’s rating in Spotlight to a green light, a designation reserved only for universities where FIRE is unable to find a policy that seriously imperils protected speech. Unfortunately, just eleven universities out of about 400 surveyed […]

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  • William & Mary Closes In on a “Green Light,” but One Dangerous Policy Remains

    September 25, 2009

    There is excellent news this week out of The College of William & Mary. The student newspaper The Informer reports that the W&M administration has revised several of the university’s speech codes, thanks to pressure from free speech advocates including former FIRE intern Braum Katz, a W&M senior. In particular, the administration has eliminated a ban on anonymous postings and has 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”—a policy that, due to its vague and broad wording, could easily have been used to suppress core […]

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  • FIRE in College of William and Mary’s ‘Flat Hat’

    January 27, 2009

    Today’s Flat Hat, The College of William and Mary’s student newspaper, reports that William and Mary has again received a “red light” rating from FIRE because the school has at least one policy that clearly and substantially restricts the freedom of speech of its students. Last year’s article on this rating by The Flat Hat unfortunately did not prompt William and Mary to revise its policies. This year, however, The Flat Hat asked President Taylor Reveley what he thought, perhaps because FIRE directly wrote President Reveley about the school’s rating about a month ago along with similar letters to hundreds […]

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  • FIRE says College restricts freedom of speech

    April 4, 2008

    The non-profit group, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education ranked the College as “red,” meaning that the organization believes that the College has at least one policy “that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.” Braum Katz ’10 is heading an effort to revise the College’s current policy. FIRE was founded by author Alan Charles Kors, who, along with Harvey A. Silverglate, wrote “The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses.” FIRE handles cases from students and faculty of U.S. institutions of higher education who feel that their rights have been violated. If the case cannot be […]

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  • Unconstitutional ‘Bias Reporting’ Programs: A Nationwide Problem

    November 29, 2007

    This fall, The College of William & Mary launched a Bias Incident Reporting System “to assist members of the William and Mary community—students, staff, and faculty—in bringing bias incidents to the College’s attention.” In its initial incarnation, the system was fraught with constitutional problems, from both free speech and due process standpoints. The system initially allowed for anonymous reporting, providing that “[a] person reporting online may report anonymously by leaving the personal information fields blank.” The definition of “bias” was overbroad and encompassed constitutionally protected expression: “A bias incident consists of harassment, intimidation, or other hostile behavior that is directed […]

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  • Anonymous Tips for ‘Bias’ at William and Mary? Yikes.

    November 2, 2007

    Check on John Leo’s “By The Way, Somebody Turned You In” over at Minding The Campus, regarding William and Mary’s anonymous bias reporting program: William and Mary’s new and anonymous bias reporting system is so wrong-headed that it’s hard to know where to begin protesting it. Some anonymous reports are legitimate, as Eugene Volokh argues at the Volokh Conspiracy, but calling for a college’s entire student body to watch out for bias, and then turn in their fellow students or professors, is not a good idea… This reminds me of George Washington U’s similarly creepy program that we fought years […]

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  • When the Truth is Too Outrageous to Parody

    July 24, 2007

    The following entry was authored by FIRE summer intern Braum Katz, a rising sophomore at the College of William and Mary. In my freshman year of college, I became involved with The Pillory, William and Mary’s only satire and humor magazine. As expected, our first staff meeting consisted of an obligatory discussion on standards of decency in the parodies we would produce. Our editor-in-chief, a humorist wholly convinced of the power of satire, relayed a story that for the first time demonstrated how dangerously “chilled” satirical writing has become on college campuses. In turn, I will relay it here. At […]

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  • William & Mary Apologizes for Censoring Dormitory Staff in Wake of Tragedy

    May 13, 2005

    In recent news, the College of William & Mary (W&M) has rescinded disciplinary actions against two dormitory housekeepers for talking to the press about the tragic suicides of two students in a campus fraternity house. The two workers had been quoted in the local paper as calling one of the students a “real joyful dude” and “a good kid.” A week after the workers’ supervisory personnel terminated one of the workers and put the other on three years’ employment probation for “fail[ing] to listen to [their] supervisor’s director that barred [them] from speaking to the press about the death,” the […]

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