“This brings W&L’s policy in line with its 2015 adoption of the Chicago Statement, affirming freedom of expression on campus.”
We covered this controversy in a previous quick take. Glad to see it’s cleared up, thanks in large part to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
From the FIRE blog:
After FIRE criticism, Washington and Lee implements new political activity policy, allowing students to advocate for political candidates
After barring the College Republicans from displaying campaign materials on campus during Virginia’s 2021 gubernatorial campaign, Washington and Lee University implemented a new political activity policy. The new policy cures the pitfalls that led to the university’s censorship of the student group and now protects the ability of students and student groups to engage in political activity on campus. The news is both a warning to other institutions to review their policies before election seasons begin, and an example of how an institution can fix defective policies.
On Sept. 12, 2021, W&L’s College Republicans student group set up a booth at the university’s annual activities fair, which included campaign materials in support of then-gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin. A W&L administrator told the chapter that it must remove the campaign materials, as displaying them violated university policy and could put the university’s status as a tax-exempt organization at risk.
FIRE wrote to W&L on Sept. 23, explaining that while the university is prohibited from advocating for political candidates because of its tax-exempt status, individual students and student groups do not speak on the university’s behalf and may engage in political speech. We also told W&L that prohibiting the College Republicans from engaging in core political speech contravened its own policies, which promise students expressive rights.
When W&L maintained its stance that the College Republicans could not display campaign materials, FIRE contacted former Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who has long championed students’ expressive rights on campus and who earned his law degree at W&L. Goodlatte, former Chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee and current Senior Policy Advisor at Protect the 1st, a First Amendment advocacy organization, also advocated for W&L to reform its political activity policy.
On Friday, months after FIRE’s letter and Protect the 1st’s advocacy, W&L changed its political activity policy, promising students that they may engage in political expression on campus. This brings W&L’s policy in line with its 2015 adoption of the Chicago Statement, affirming freedom of expression on campus.
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.