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."

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    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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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