Free Speech in Peril at West Virginia Colleges

From the introduction of Free Speech at West Virginia Colleges and Universities: Peril and Promise

A campus-climate survey published by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) in 2021—the largest of its kind ever performed, including 37,104 students at 159 institutions—found that 5-in-6 college students have self-censored because of how they perceived other students, a professor, or the college administration would respond. Two-thirds of college students agreed that it was acceptable to shout down a campus speaker or to try to prevent them from speaking.

Unfortunately, colleges across West Virginia contribute to this restrictive culture by maintaining speech codes—policies that restrict guarantees of freedom of speech. Not only do the U.S. and West Virginia constitutions acknowledge the right to free speech, which must be protected at public colleges, but Senate Bill 657, which became law in 2021, requires that public colleges protect “any lawful verbal and nonverbal speech.”

Furthermore, many private colleges also promise free speech to their students. Speech codes violate these guarantees. FIRE reviewed the restrictions on free speech at 17 public or private colleges and universities in West Virginia and found 92 policies that restrict freedom of speech.  This report reviews FIRE’s ratings, gives examples of restrictive policies, and recommends ways to improve students’ free speech rights.