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Speech Codes at JMU

JMU has a few speech codes which infringe on the rights of students and faculty 

I. Student Handbook: Soliciting, Petitioning, Selling, Surveying, and Publicizing

 JMU’s posting policy states that materials must be validated by “University Information” to be sponsored by a recognized student organization or university department before being posted. This requirement seems to prevent students from posting without first clearing their materials through the university administration and obtaining sponsorship from a group or department. Requiring students to obtain sponsorship could have a chilling effect on controversial or unpopular ideas. Instead, there should be at least some areas on campus where students are able to post materials without receiving advance approval.

II. Appropriate Use of Information Technology Resources policy

This policy bans all users of JMU information technology resources from using such resources for “political activities.” While JMU is indeed prohibited from participating in political activities as an institution, due to its tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, this prohibition does not prevent students themselves from engaging in political speech where such speech is clearly separate and distinct from the institution as a whole. By banning students from using the university’s technology resources for any political activities, however, the policy encompasses protected speech, such as sending an email about a political rally to fellow students in a student group in a campus computer lab, or posting a tweet about a particular candidate while using university wifi. The policy should be revised to instead ban political activity that reasonably implies endorsement from the university or otherwise is seemingly made on behalf of the university.  

III. Harassment policies

JMU maintains two policies governing harassment that do not sufficiently track the Supreme Court’s standard for peer harassment in the educational setting.

Under the standard for peer harassment provided by the Supreme Court, alleged harassment must be conduct that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.” Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, 526 U.S. 629, 651 (1999). As the Court’s only decision to date regarding the substantive standard for peer harassment in education, Davis is controlling on this issue.

In contrast, the “Sexual Misconduct” and “Harassment, Bullying, and/or Stalking” provisions from JMU’s Student Handbook ban conduct that is “sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive, and objectively offensive,” thus only requiring that conduct is severe or pervasive, rather than severe and pervasive. These provisions should be revised to more precisely track the components of the Court’s speech-protective standard from Davis.

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