Robert M. O'Neil

  • University of Virginia President Emeritus
  • University Professor Emeritus
  • Professor of Law Emeritus

Robert O'Neil, former director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and an authority on the First Amendment, teaches constitutional law of free speech and the press, and church and state. He came to Virginia in 1985 to become the University of Virginia's sixth president, a position he held until 1990.

After his law school graduation, O'Neil clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. In 1963 he began his law faculty career, first as a teacher at the University of California-Berkeley and then as a teacher-administrator. His posts included provost of the University of Cincinnati, vice-president of Indiana University, and president of the statewide University of Wisconsin system.

O'Neil has served as the president of the Virginia Council for Open Government, chairman of the Council for America's First Freedom, director of the Commonwealth Fund and the James River Corporation, and chair of the American Association of University Professors Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure. He is currently director of the Ford Foundation's Difficult Dialogues program, chair of the American Association of University Professors' Special Committee on Academic Freedom and National Security in Time of Crisis, and is a consultant to the Association of Governing Boards on issues of Board Accountability. He has served as a trustee for the Teachers Insurance & Annuity Association (TIAA), WVPT Public Television, and the Piedmont Council for the Arts.

From 1979-95 O'Neil served as a trustee for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He has also chaired the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, a commission on the future of Virginia's judicial system, and a commission of the Markle Foundation on media coverage of presidential elections.


  • LL.B.
    Harvard Law School
  • A.M.
    Harvard University
  • B.A.
    Harvard University


Updating Board Bylaws: A Guide for Colleges and Universities (AGB Press, 2012).

Academic Freedom in the Wired World (Harvard University Press 2007).  

The First Amendment and Civil Liability (Indiana University Press, 2001).

Free Speech in the College Community (Indiana University Press, 1997).

The Rights of Public Employees: The Basic ACLU Guide to the Rights of Public Employees (Southern Illinois University Press, 1978; 2d ed. 1993).

Courts in Transition (chairman), 74 pp, (Commission on the Future of Virginia's Judicial System, 1989) Excerpt reprinted in Va. B. A. J., Summer 1989, at 18.

Classrooms in the Crossfire: The Rights and Interests of Students, Parents, Teachers, Administrators, Librarians, and the Community (Indiana University Press, 1981).

Discriminating Against Discrimination: Preferential Admissions and the DeFunis Case (Indiana University Press, 1975).

Civil Liberties Today: Case Studies and the Law (with others) (Houghton Mifflin for Tufts University Lincoln Filene Center for Citizenship and Public Affairs, 1974).

Free Speech: Responsible Communication Under Law (Bobbs-Merrill, 2d ed. 1972).

The Courts, Government and Higher Education, 40 pp. (New York Committee for Economic Development, 1972).

No Heroes, No Villains (with John P. Morris & Raymond Mack) (Jossey-Bass, 1972).

The Judiciary and Vietnam (with Anthony A. D'Amato) (St.Martin's Press, 1972).

The Price of Dependency: Civil Liberties in the Welfare States (E.P. Dutton, 1970).

Civil Liberties: Case Studies and the Law (with Donald Parker & Nicholas Econopouly) (Houghton Mifflin for Tufts University Lincoln Filene Center for Citizenship and Public Affairs, 1965). A Guide to Debate (with co-author) (1964).

Book Chapters:

“A Family Tradition: Clerking at the U.S. Supreme Court” (with David O’Neil), in Todd C. Peppers & Clare Cushman, eds., Of Courtiers and Kings: More Stories of Supreme Court Law Clerks and Their Justices 351 (University of Virginia Press, 2015).

“Charting Civil Liberties and Protecting Free Expression: Learning from and Working with Justice William J. Brennan,” in Todd C. Peppers & Artemus Ward, eds., In Chambers: Stories of Supreme Court Law Clerks and Their Justices 284 (University of Virginia Press, 2012).

"Hate Propaganda and National Security," in John Norton Moore & Robert F. Turner, eds., Legal Issues in the Struggle Against Terror 171 (Carolina Academic Press, 2010).

“Separation Abroad: How Long the Jeffersonian Shadow?,” in Robert Fatton, Jr. & R. K. Ramazani, eds., Religion, State, and Society: Jefferson’s Wall of Separation in Comparative Perspective 53 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

“Dorsen, Norman,” in Roger K. Newman, ed., Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law 170 (Yale University Press, 2009).

"Academic Freedom: Past, Present, and Future Beyond September 11," in American Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century: Social, Political, and Economic Challenges 91 (Philip G. Altbach et al. eds., Johns Hopkins University Press, 2d ed. 2005).

"Freedom of Expression," in National Security Law 1025 (John Norton Moore & Robert F. Turner eds., Carolina Academic Press, 2d ed. 2005).

"Nonverbal Expression," in Kermit L. Hall, ed., Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States 597 (Oxford University Press, 1992).

"Least Restrictive Means Test," in Kermit L. Hall, ed., Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States 496 (Oxford University Press, 1992).

"The First and Tenth Amendments in a Federal System: The States and Free Speech," in Claudia A. Haskel & Jean H. Otto, eds., A Time for Choices 60 (First Amendment Congress, 1991).


“Litigating Free Speech Issues in the Trenches,” 14 First Amend. L. Rev. 301 (2016).
HeinOnline (PDF)

“The Absent Amicus: ‘With Friends Like These . . .’,” 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 1 (2015).
HeinOnline (PDF)

“Second Thoughts on the First Amendment in Higher Education,” 83 Miss. L.J. 745 (2014).

"Hate Speech, Fighting Words, and Beyond – Why American Law Is Unique," 76 Alb. L. Rev. 467 (2012/2013).
HeinOnline (PDF)

"A Tale of Two Greenmoss Builders," 88 Wash. L. Rev. 125 (2013).
HeinOnline (PDF)

“A Justice for All Seasons,” 89 Tex. L. Rev. 1417 (2011) (reviewing Seth Stern & Stephen Wermiel, Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion (2010-11)).
HeinOnline (PDF)

"Judicial Deference to Academic Decisions: An Outmoded Concept?," 36 J.C.U.L. 729 (2010).

“Bias, ‘Balance,’ and Beyond: New Threats to Academic Freedom,” 77 U. Colo. L. Rev. 985 (2006).

“Limits of Freedom: The Ward Churchill Case,” Change, Sept. 2006, at 34.

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan: A First Amendment Lawyer’s Retrospective,” 9 Comm. L. & Pol’y 423 (2004).

Nike v. Kasky–What Might Have Been . . .,” 54 Case W. Res. L. Rev. 1259 (2004).

“Tribute to Professor Robert Hudec,” 13 Minn. J. Global Trade 211 (2004).

“A Comment on ‘Traditions of Church-State Separation,’” 18 J.L. & Pol. 323 (2002).

"At Last, Guidance Seems Likely on Affirmative Action," Chron. Higher Educ., Dec. 13, 2002, at B20.

“The Canons in the Courts: Recent First Amendment Rulings,” 35 Ind. L. Rev. 701 (2002).

"Rights in Conflict" The First Amendment's Third Century," Law & Contemp. Probs., Spring 2002, at 7-31.

"The Neglected First Amendment Jurisprudence of the Second Justice Harlan," 58 Ann. Surv. Am. L. 57 (2001).

"Preface," 9 CommLaw Conspectus 141 (2001).

"Campus Database Issues," 27 J. C. & U. L. 109 (2000).

"Ride-Alongs, Paparazzi, and Other Media Threats to Privacy," 33 U. Rich. L. Rev. 1167 (2000).

"Two Unlikely Heros in the Fight for First Amendment Rights," Hum. Rts., Fall 2000, at 14-15.

"Free Speech in the College Community," 29 Ariz. St. L. J. 537 (1997).

"The Internet in the College Community," 17 N. Ill. U. L. Rev. 191 (1997).

"Revive News Council to Curb Press," Nat'l L. J., Sept. 22, 1997, at A23.

"A Researcher's Privilege: Does Any Hope Remain?" Law & Contemp. Probs., Summer 1996, at 35-49.

"Tainted Sources: First Amendment Rights and Journalistic Wrongs," 4 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 1005 (1996).

"Who Says You Can't Pray?" 3 Va. J. Soc. Pol'y & L. 347 (1996).

"Freedom of Expression and Public Affairs in Australia and the United States: Does a Written Bill of Rights Really Matter?" 22 Fed. L. Rev. 1 (1994).

"Hateful Messages That Force Free Speech to the Limit," Chron. Higher Educ., Feb. 16, 1994, at A52.

"The Ashe and AIDS Story: Legal Right to Publish vs. Moral Obligation to Protect," Daily Progress, Feb. 14, 1993, at A11.

"The Lawyer and the Client in the Campus Setting: Who is the Client, What Does the Client Expect and How May the Attorney Respond?" 19 J. C. & U. L. 333 (1993).

"Bishop v. Aronov: A Comment," 18 J. C. & U. L. 381 (1992).

"First Amendment Issues in S. 100," 8 J. L. & Pol. 277 (1992).

"First Amendment Protections Threatened," Va. L. Wkly., Oct. 4, 1991, at 1, 3.

"An Inquiry into the Legal and Ethical Problems of Campus Hate Speech," 29 Free Speech YB 26-30 (1992).

"Regulating Speech to Cleanse Political Campaigns," 21 Cap. U. L. Rev. 575 (1992).

"A Time to Re-evaluate Campus Speech Codes," Chron. Higher Educ., July 8, 1992, at A40.

"Artists, Grants and Rights: The NEA Controversy Revisited," 9 NY L. Sch. J. Hum. Rts. 85 (1991).

"The Bill of Rights Yesterday and Today," 26 Val. U. L. Rev. 101 (1991).

"A Center to Protect Free Expression," Va. L. Sch. Rep., Summer 1991, at 17-20.

"Dealing with Intolerance for Intolerant Views," Chron. Higher Educ., Dec. 18, 1991, at A44.

"Artistic Freedom and Academic Freedom," Law & Contemp. Probs., Summer 1990, at 177-193.

"Memorial to Ernest Folk: From the University," Va. L. Sch. Rep., Winter 1990, at 26.

"Point of View: Scientists Accused of Fraud Deserve Procedural Safeguards," Chron. Higher Educ., Nov. 28, 1990, at A48.

"The Truth May Not Set You Free," 47 Wash & Lee L. Rev. 515 (1990).

"Colleges Should Seek Educational Alternatives to Rules That Override the Historic Guarantees of Free Speech," Chron. Higher Educ., Oct. 18, 1989, at B1, B3.

"Constitutional Scholars' Statement on Affirmative Action after City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co." (with others), 98 Yale L. J. 1711 (1989).

"Religious Expression: Speech or Worship—or Both?" 54 Mo. L. Rev. 501 (1989).

Review of Yarbrough, Mr. Justice Black and His Critics, 73 Ga. Hist. Q. 893 (1989).

"Scholars' Reply to Professor Fried" (with others), 99 Yale L. J. 163 (1989).

"Conditioned Funding in a Federal System," 16 N. Ky. L. Rev. 1 (1988).

"Preferential Admissions Revisited: Some Reflections on DeFunis and Bakke," 14 J. C. & U. L. 423 (1988).

"The Separation of Powers in a Federal System," 37 Emory L. J. 539 (1988).

"Higher Education's Responsibility," 51 Soc. Educ. 435 (1987).

"University Presidents: Changing Modes of Leadership," Liberal Educ., Mar./Apr. 1987, at 39-40.

"Civil Liberty and Military Necessity -- Some Preliminary Thoughts on Goldman v. Weinberger," 113 Mil. L. Rev. 31 (1986).

"President's Reflections on Law School Community," Va. L. Sch. Rep., Fall 1986, at 27-28.

"Recalculating the Cost-Benefit Balance for Trial-Type Procedures," 38 Admin. L. Rev. 141 (1986).

Review of Larson, Trial and Error, 4 J. L. & Educ. 487 (1986).

"A Reaction to 'The Imperial Scholar' and Professor Delgado's Proposed Solution," 3 Law & Ineq. 255 (1985).

"Supreme Court Delves into Church/State Issues," Va. L. Wkly., Nov. 15, 1985, at 1, 4.

Statements and Testimony:

Statement in Hearing on Early Retirement in Higher Education 34-41, 54-62. U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Education and the Workforce. Hearing, May 22, 1997.

Testimony in Campaign Finance Reform Proposals of 1996, at 37-41. U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Rules and Administration. Hearings, Feb. 1, Mar. 13, Mar. 27, Apr. 17, May 8, and May 15, 1996.

Statements (with Christopher Mackaronis) in Age Discrimination in Employment Amendments of 1995, at 76-87. U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Labor and Human Resources. Hearing, March 8, 1996.

Statement in Television Violence 235-238, 402-404. U.S. Congress. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Hearing, July 12, 1995.

Statement in First Amendment Activities on Public Lands 5-8, 27-32. U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Hearing, July 18, 1995.

Testimony (with others) in Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations for 1993, Part 8: Testimony of Public Witnesses for Natural Resources Management Programs, at 1-14. U.S. Congress. House Committee on Appropriations. Hearings, Feb 26-27, 1992.

Statement in Public Interest in Broadcasting 139-142. U.S. Congress. House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Hearings, May 13 and 15, 1991.

Statement in 2 Revenue Raising Options Required under the Fiscal Year 1988 Budget Resolution 85-91. U.S. Congress. Senate Committee on Finance. Hearing, July 17, 1987.

Statement in 8 Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act: Title II (College Libraries); Title VI (International Education); Title VIII (Cooperative Education); Title X (F.I.P.S.E.); Title XI (Urban Grant Universities) 2-10. U.S. Congress. House Committee on Education and Labor. Hearings, Sept. 6 and 10, 1985.

Book Reviews:

“Review of Stanley Fish’s Save the World on Your Own Time,” 36 J.C. &. U.L. 305 (2009).

Review of de Grazia, Girls Lean Back Everywhere, 15 Cardozo L. Rev. 2329 (1994).

"Law and Semiotics: A Reappraisal," 74 Semiotica 173 (1989) (reviewing Jackson, Semiotics and Legal Theory, and Kevelson, The Law as a System of Signs).

Current Courses

No courses were found for this instructor.

All Courses

Constitutional Law II: Church and State
Constitutional Law II: Freedom of Speech and Press
First Amendment and the Arts (Seminar)
First Amendment Clinic (Seminar)
Free Expression in Cyberspace (seminar)