Many universities, including public ones, have created “bias response teams,” in which speech considered hateful or offensive is reported to University authorities and dealt with promptly. The number of these teams is growing.
While universities are perfectly free to recommend standards of civil discourse, public schools must adhere to the First Amendment and thus have no right to police speech unless it falls into the Amendment’s exceptions: speech that’s a clear and present danger, that is libelous, that creates a climate of harassment that impedes education, and so on.
But those aren’t the standards that colleges use. The 2017 Bias Response Team report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) gives examples of the kinds of incidents that get reported (punishments are often not mentioned). Here are two at public schools:
- Appalachian State University [North Carolina]: A student filed a report regarding the 2016 presidential election, claiming to be “offended by the politically biased slander that is chalked up everywhere reading ‘TRUMP IS A RACIST’” and describing the “slander” as “unlawful.” Another report stated that supporters of then-candidate Bernie Sanders were “destroying” messages chalked by Trump supporters by drawing penises next to them. Yet another report complained that a pro-Trump student organization was using chalk to write “hate speech” in support of Trump. Another series of reports was filed against a student activist on several grounds: tweeting that she “hate[s] white men”; “refus[ing] to support all students if a student fits the certain stereotype of a white male”; “display[ing] disturbing apathy [and] ignorance and bitterness”; and “express[ing] profound disregard for the lives of students based on race and gender and for [police] officers based on their careers.”
- University of Texas at Austin: The Campus Climate Response Team (CCRT) fielded dozens of reports about a conservative student group’s protest of affirmative action in the form of an “affirmative action bake sale.” 94% of the reports sought disciplinary action. Administrators met with the student group following the reports and acknowledged in an open letter that it was the student group’s “right to” engage in the protest. The CCRT’s annual report also disclosed that “[f]aculty and student commentary in the classroom perceived as derogatory and insensitive” was an example of the “types of incidents” reported to the CCRT
Now, as we see in the UT incident, the reports aren’t always punished, but even having these teams encourages students to participate in the Offense Culture, as well as creating a chilling atmosphere in which students are fearful of contravening the acceptable ideologies on their campuses. And the teams swell the already bloated college administrations that are top-heavy with people whose job it is to enforce ideology. Indeed, even the very name “bias response team” shows that’s what being monitored and punished here is “bias” itself.
Bias response teams aren’t really needed, I think: present college disciplinary committees (every college has one) can take care of the truly harmful kinds of speech that are pretty rare.
But now the police force of the University of Illinois (UI) has gotten involved in the college’s bias response team—the first time I’ve know that college cops have been recruited to police speech.
Here’s what they recently posted on the University Facebook page:
Get that: call the University cops “if you feel unsafe”! (Of course, they mean “unsafe because of language”, not “unsafe because of potential physical harm.”) This is not only excessive coddling, and suffers from all the problems of bias response teams, but, by getting the police involved, creates an even more chilling atmosphere. Why should the university police get involved unless there’s a crime at issue? Police involvement would seem to be more of a deterrent to free speech than would the existence of “bias response teams.”
The U of I police also tweeted the same message on their webpage:
Acts of intolerance create an unsafe and unwelcoming environment for campus community members. Remember that you can always report acts of intolerance to the Bias Assessment and Response Team at https://t.co/sVSglE3ZOz. Please let us know if you feel unsafe. #ILLINOISsafety pic.twitter.com/DOjuMmWcGd
— U of I Police (@UIPD) December 27, 2018
As if that weren’t enough, UI outlines what it considers “bias-motivated incidents”, all of which, when they involve speech, are perfectly legal under First Amendment. Of course it’s illegal to deny someone their rights based on age, gender, ethnicity, and so on, but it’s not illegal to issue “expressions” of them, odious though they may be. And “religion/spirituality” is also included in the list: no criticizing Judaism, Islam, or Methodism!
Click on the screenshot to see the whole page;
To put the icing on this unpalatable cake, the members of UI’s bias response team include Rachael Ahart, who happens to be a detective for the UI Police Department.
The University of Illinois should be ashamed of itself, and its police force should get out of the bias response business as soon as possible.