This week, the University of Virginia (UVa) confirmed that it had eliminated the last of its policies that unconstitutionally restricted the free speech of students and faculty members. While more than two-thirds of the nation’s colleges maintain policies that clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech, UVa is now a proud exception, having fully reformed four speech codes. UVa has now earned a coveted “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
First, Dean Groves reformed UVa’s “Just Report It!” “bias reporting” system to promise students that protected speech will not be “subject to University disciplinary action or formal investigation” even if it is reported. Then, Assistant Vice President for Information Security, Policy, and Records Shirley Payne removed unconstitutional language from a policy prohibiting Internet messages that “vilify” others and mailing list messages that are “inappropriate.”
Finally, UVa’s Women’s Center confirmed that it had removed two policies with unconstitutional examples of “sexual harassment” from its website. The examples stated that “jokes of a sexual nature,” “teasing,” and even mere “innuendo” constituted sexual harassment. The policies further suggested that simple flirting could be sexual harassment if it was not “wanted and mutual,” and that if a person felt “disrespected,” their experience “could indicate sexual harassment.”
UVa joins its fellow Virginia public institution The College of William & Mary (W&M) in an elite group of 13 “green light” schools. W&M earned its “green light” in October 2009. FIRE is now turning its attention to three more Virginia public universities, including George Mason, which has a “red light” policy, and James Madison and Virginia Tech, which have “yellow light” policies that threaten free speech.