Political Activities on Campus
W&L is a long-time proponent of freedom of expression, and adopted the Chicago Statement affirming freedom of expression in December 2015. We are unwavering in our commitment to the free and open debate of competing ideas, and attempt to apply our policies in a manner consistent with this commitment.
On Oct. 19, an organization called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) posted a story to its website and social media channels about an incident that took place at our student activities fair in September. Our director of student activities, following longstanding guidance that we apply in a non-partisan manner, asked the College Republicans to remove a display of campaign materials endorsing a candidate in the Virginia gubernatorial race because the display violated the university’s Guidance on Political Activity.
This guidance is in place to protect the university’s non-profit status by complying with Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3). The university's guidance applies to the distribution of campaign materials by a student organization under circumstances where the university may be perceived to be endorsing a candidate for public office. The guidance is not intended to, nor does it, infringe upon an individual student's political expression.
More information about W&L’s Statement Concerning Political Activity and Frequently Asked Questions About Political Activities at W&L are available on the university’s website and in the supplemental FAQs below:
Frequently Asked Questions
How long has the current political guidance been in place?
The guidance has been in place for over 10 years.
May student organizations invite a political candidate to speak at the university?
Yes. Student political organizations (College Republicans, Young Democrats, etc.) are not prohibited from pursuing their normal activities consistent with the academic nature of their endeavors. However, these student organizations must pay the normal "student organization rates" associated with using institutional facilities, and must identify at any such event - particularly one in which a candidate for political office is present - that the purpose of the event is educational, and does not imply any endorsement of (or opposition to) any candidate by the University.
May student organizations invite a third-party speaker to speak in support of a political candidate at the university?
Yes. See above.
How does the university apply this policy to the activities during Mock Convention?
As stated in the guidance, Mock Convention activities are not prohibited.
May students display campaign materials in their private or university residence, or on private property including laptops, vehicles, or apparel?
Yes. The guidance prohibits the distribution of campaign-related material on university property or using university resources, but does not restrict individual students or employees from advocating for a candidate on their personal property, including signage in their own room in university residences.
May students advocate for political candidates on their personal social media accounts?
Yes. The university does not place any restrictions on student expression via social media.
May students conduct voter registration and/or a get-out-the-vote drive on campus?
Yes. This type of activity is allowed by the IRS as long as no preference is shown for or against a certain candidate or political party.