Breaking Campus News. Launching Media Careers.
WVU requires faculty ‘encourage change for the greater good,’ sparking free speech concerns

‘In this matter WVU must abide by the First Amendment and Constitution and as such they cannot be overly broad or vague,’ civil liberties group argues 

New faculty hires at West Virginia University in Morgantown are signing on for more than a paycheck and a teaching opportunity. They’re also asked to step in line for the “greater good”—an undefined phrase that the university has not clarified.

In early August, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Expression sounded the alarm on WVU’s requirement for scholars to “accept and encourage change that is for the greater good,” which is spelled out in faculty appointment letters.

The foundation wrote to the university, telling officials the requirement threatens scholars’ expressive rights.

“Requirements that faculty ‘accept and encourage change that is for the greater good’ and avoid speech that ‘reflects adversely on the image of the University’ … lack clear definitions and that, in turn, lack clear parameters for compliance,” FIRE’s July 27 memo to University President E. Gordon Gee stated.

“Vague directives are also, by their nature, ripe for abuse as they require administrators make inherently subjective judgments and can all too easily be used — and frequently are — to punish faculty who engage in speech or scholarship that may be controversial or which an administrator dislikes, for any reason,” the memo added.

While FIRE’s memo stated the phrase was “recently added,” April Kaull, WVU’s executive communications director, said it has been a part of faculty letters since 2020.

The greater good requirement can be found in WVU’s current Code of Conduct, which “includes specific language about West Virginia University’s respect and support of freedom of speech,” Kaull told The College Fix.

“We believe strongly that West Virginia University should be a place for ideas, even those we may disagree with, and we take seriously our obligation to protect and uphold the important rights granted by the First Amendment,” she said.

While the university seemed to affirm its commitment to professors’ right of expression, Kaull did not clarify to The College Fix the meaning of the “greater good” phrase.

While the code contains reference to employees’ “freedom of expression” and “encourages everyone to express their thoughts and concerns in a respectful manner,” some free speech advocates remain concerned about the vagueness of the “greater good” clause.

“The vagueness here does appear to be on purpose,” Ida Namazi, a program officer for FIRE’s campus rights advocacy department, told The College Fix.

“The issue with vagueness of this level is that the university will be able to determine what they determine to be ‘good’ at any point. Faculty will have no prior warning if their conduct or speech aligns with what WVU believes to be ‘good.’”

Required conduct on the part of those involved in the functions of public universities is nothing new.

For example, as recently as 2020, Namazi said, Ohio State University required students to sign a “Together as Buckeyes” pledge to abide by COVID-19 regulations before returning to campus.

WVU’s status as a public university, however, means the university must not only maintain a commitment to respecting the rights of their faculty to voice opinions, even controversial ones, but also make that commitment clear, Namazi said.

“In this matter WVU must abide by the First Amendment and Constitution and as such they cannot be overly broad or vague,” she said.

MORE: OSU requires DEI statements from mechanical, aerospace engineer job applicants

IMAGE: Shutterstock

Like The College Fix on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

Please join the conversation about our stories on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, MeWe, Rumble, Gab, Minds and Gettr.

About the Author
College Fix contributor Isaac Willour is a political science major at Grove City College. He is an award-winning columnist for GCC's college newspaper and the senior editor of the GCC Journal of Law & Public Policy. He chairs the Grove City AEI Executive Council, and his work has been published in The Dispatch, National Review, The Christian Post, and a variety of other outlets.