Campus Free Speech

Legal Group Sues University of Michigan Over Speech Code, Bias Response Team

"A bias response system has no place in America."


Scott Kashkin

The new free speech advocacy organization Speech First announced Tuesday that it is suing the University of Michigan on behalf of three students who object to the campus's broad disciplinary code and bias response team.

These campus policies imperil students' First Amendment rights and chill free expression on campus, the lawsuit contends.

"Speech codes like Michigan's flagrantly violate the First Amendment," said Speech First President Nicole Neily in a statement. "Moreover, a bias response system has no place in America, much less on a modern-day college campus. Because it's impossible to know what comments might be 'perceived' by others as offensive, students don't contribute to conversations and debates, ask questions, write papers, or invite speakers they might otherwise."

Michigan's code of conduct prohibits harassment, defining such conduct as "unwanted negative attention perceived as intimidating, demeaning, or bothersome to an individual." It's easy to see how censors could abuse this standard: It punishes speech merely perceived as bothersome to any person, no matter how unreasonable that person's perceptions are.

Bias response teams, which exist at dozens if not hundreds of campuses, are also a frequent source of free speech abuse. They generally permit students to report each other for having done or said something offensive. The team compiles lists of thoughtcrimes, and occasionally contacts the perpetrators or refer them for disciplinary action.

The Wall Street Journal's Jillian Kay Melchior previously filed a public records request for Michigan's BRT files. She reports that the

university thwarted this inquiry by imposing a fee of more than $2,400 for the public records. But the log shows that in one reported incident of verbal bias in the classroom, the Bias Response Team said it referred a university employee to administrators who "shared concerns with the academic department involved." In several other cases, the Bias Response Team determined that some reported acts of verbal bias could constitute sex discrimination…

A Michigan spokesperson tells The Detroit News that the school has no comment on the litigation thus far.

As I've written previously, bias response teams are grounded in the junk science of microaggression theory, and represent a pernicious threat to free expression on campus. Libertarians will watch this case with great interest.

NEXT: The Battle of Ideas Turns Coercive

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  1. Libertarians will watch this case with great interest.

    Yeah well, I heard that libertarians should be reading about Venezuela and not this stupid college stuff.

    1. Venezuelan colleges, maybe. Some co-ed pics

      1. on the beach, of course

        1. The case will evoke particular interest among those of us who, like Eugene Volokh, have learned how to present ourselves as defenders of the First Amendment, while in fact casually making our point that there’s nothing really wrong with criminalizing certain kinds of speech that we really don’t like, if necessary under bogus legal pretexts.

          In this regard, might I propose that we put a “satire” response team in place, so we can do more for our distinguished university colleagues who have seen their reputations sorely tarnished by certain incorrigible elements? Such a team would have much to learn from NYU’s highly beneficial cooperation with law enforcement authorities tasked with protecting reputations. It is unfortunate, of course, that a so-called judge has refused to send our nation’s leading criminal “parodist” to jail, but a specially trained response team could help make up for such lapses. See the documentation at:

    2. If you read about Venezuela then you must be some kind of snowflake pierogi SJW. Real Libertarians only care about America. And not colleges in America, either. Real Libertarians don’t go to college.

      1. Tell us more about the wonders of socialism in Venezuela Hugh

        1. Yeah, Hugh. If you live Venezuelan socialism so much why don’t you marry it?

            1. If I was single, I would be flying down there with pictures of my local grocery store.

    3. Venezuela is so far away. And they don’t even speak English. Let’s talk about something important, like this months 45th article on Uber.

    4. Yeah, I’m having trouble working up the interest that Robby has. This story is starting to sound like a broken record, but swap FIRE with “Speech First”. I don’t think it’s going to make the Hurt Feelings Police go away.

    5. Is the Public University System Too Far Left to Effectively Advocate for Free Speech?

      We’ll get a nuanced and informed opinion from a half dozen ostracized former professors and intellectuals who continue to tread over the same ‘battered wife/they lynched me but I still love them’ tropes!


    Speaking of college campuses, this guy might be the biggest asshole in America or perhaps the world. That he is a vegan is almost too perfect to be true.

    Duke University Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta visited the Joe Van Gogh coffee shop on campus on May 4, as he frequently does.

    But while in the shop, ordering his usual hot tea and vegan muffin, he heard and was offended by a rap song baristas were playing, according to Indy Week.

    So Moneta and executive director of dining services Robert Coffey complained to the coffee chain, and two baristas at the Duke shop were fired, according to the Indy Week report on May 8.

    On May 7, Britni Brown and Kevin Simmons, two employees of the Duke location of the Joe Van Gogh coffee chain, had their contracts terminated by the company.

    1. I’ll bet you a fat dollar he wasn’t offended by the rap song, he was offended that it was white people playing it. There’s no way in hell he’s complaining about black people or black people’s music, cultural appropriation is what got his panties all wadded up.

      1. Do we *know* the baristas were not Blahahahahaaaa!! Damn, couldn’t quite get it out!

        1. They’re baristas. They’re named Britni and Kevin. Not only are they white, between the two of them they’ve got 5 piercings, two dozen tats and a set of gauged dangly bits somewhere on their body. And at least one of them identifies as gender-fluid and rides a unicycle to work.

          1. White girls who are named Britney spell it “Britney” or some close variation usually. Spelling it “Britini” is an awfully odd variation of it for a white girl. She might be white but it is hardly sure. And again, white people in Durham generally don’t work in coffee shops.

            1. I don’t know man, white people be crazy, or some such.

          2. I would hire anyone that can ride a unicycle. I tried to learn that once and almost killed myself. Riding a unicycle is more impressive to me than a four year diploma.

            1. And involves more actual work than most current 4 year degrees – – – – –

      2. Britni Brown and Kevin Simmons, were the employees. My guess is they are black. Durham’s local population and most of the custodial and lower paid staff at Duke are black. They might be white, but chances are they are black given the demographics of the local area.

        1. If so, let the lawsuits begin.

        2. The employee who was at the register and who interacted with Moneta (and who chose the Spotify playlist that day) is black. The other employee who had nothing to do with the choice of music is white. Initially only the first staffer was to be fired, but the second was apparently called into HR for the boot as well. One can guess why.

    2. Coffee shop owner apologizes after Duke store employees were fired over rap music complaint

      As the owner of the business, I take full responsibility for Joe Van Gogh’s actions. I apologize to all of the people directly involved and those who have been touched or offended, of which there are many.”

      So, you’re giving those baristas their jobs back and then resignng, right? RIGHT?!

    3. In fairness, the lyrics were really fucking appalling. I mean, you might be able to defend them as art, but as light entertainment? I don’t know about you, but I can finish my Earl Grey without hearing approbatory tales about a “young nigga” beating and raping “some bitch”.

      1. But Mah Culture!!!

  3. Serious question: “Member of Bias Response Team” would be on a resume to apply for what job?

    Also, you know who else used Bias Response Teams?

    1. Government jobs, activist groups, stuff like that.

    2. The Boston Celtics?

      1. Well, I was thinking Sewing Clubs, but that works.

    3. “Member of Bias Response Team” would be on a resume to apply for what job?

      Any job really. It lets the HR group at potential companies know that you’re woke af and won’t cause them any harassment pain.

      1. Well, until you sue the employer for harassment because someone othered you with their microaggressions by asking you your name.

  4. bias response teams are grounded in the junk science of microaggression theory, and represent a pernicious threat to free expression on campus

    No, bias response teams aren’t grounded in the junk science of microaggression theory, they’re grounded in the junk science of Maoism and they aren’t a threat to free expression, they’re a defense against the threat of free expression.

    1. I dare you to find an ideology more effective* than Maoism.

      *effective at extinguishing human life

      1. *effective at extinguishing human life

        The Khmer Rouge were pretty good at that. I don’t know if Pol Pot killed as many people in absolute numbers as Mao did, but as a percentage of his country’s population I’d think he has to be way ahead.

      2. Killeveryoneism?

    1. Surely you’re not expecting progressives to live up to their own rhetoric?

    2. The Pay is in Power

  5. Another right-wing group that nips at the ankles of our strongest (liberal-libertarian) schools while ignoring the strident censorship that afflicts conservative-controlled campuses?

    Why don’t right-wingers focus on trying to build strong schools that permit free inquiry, refrain from teaching nonsense, respect science, avoid loyalty oaths and speech codes, and might even be able to compete with good schools?

    Prediction: Conservatives are content with hundreds of snowflake-coddling goober factories, so long as they lean to the right; mostly, they just want to take lame partisan swings at their betters.

    1. Speaking of boring repetition.

    2. *yaaawn*

      At least Tony tries in his own special way

    3. …while ignoring the strident censorship that afflicts conservative-controlled campuses?

      University of Michigan is a state (public) college. Which conservative colleges are you referring to?

    4. Why don’t right-wingers focus on trying to build strong schools that permit free inquiry, refrain from teaching nonsense, respect science, avoid loyalty oaths and speech codes, and might even be able to compete with good schools

      Probably the same reason schools in vibrant left-wing urban utopias are consistently the worst in the nation.

    5. Having gone to one of these schools you attempt to describe in the middle of the heartland I can attest that while many people assume my school was as conservative as you say (that’s the rep it has)… that was so far from reality it isn’t even funny.

      I got a Poli Sci degree. I had one GOP prof… and she was GOP not conservative. Only one science prof that I know of entertained creationism absent evolution. My advisor was an open borders, pro-choice, anti-war, big regulatory and redistributive statist, Democrat. The religion professors questioned the integrity of the Bible (it was a Baptist school mind you). My lit profs ranged from explicit communist (as in he rejected the very notion of private property and did so explicitly) to a turn of the century progressive who loved stories about where the hero was the poor working class rising up against the capitalist industrial system. Or one was a flaky artsy type who believed “art saves lives” and pointed at her button that said so every chance she got.

      Luckily I turned out OK because while younger than them all, my bullshit detector and logic processes still worked.

  6. Michigan’s code of conduct prohibits harassment, defining such conduct as “unwanted negative attention perceived as intimidating, demeaning, or bothersome to an individual.”

    Bothersome? For fuck’s sake…

    1. Exactly. Accurately applied, every memo or email from the college administration would be bothersome to someone somewhere, and therefore the entire administration should resign en masse.

  7. “Bias response team.”

    In other words, “Improper Thought Response Team”.

    Every human point of view is biased in some way. It’s hard to tell when we will hit peak irony, but apparently, we’re not there yet.

  8. “Isn’t that a pretty sunset?”
    I perceive that as disparaging sunrise. Call in the BRT, stat!

  9. So easy to complain about the Bias Responce Teams, whom are second only to Leaf drivers in godessness. You have a better idea for how to counter the rampant campus-based lynchings, well-documented and unsolicited co-ed blood orgies carried out in fraternity after fraternity, and torch-lit hate rallies orchestrated by openly-racist professors? I’m aaaaalllll ears, pal!

  10. Opponents of campus speech codes need to do more than argue against them.

    They need to *avail themselves* of the power of such codes against the enemies of free speech. The Left will never embrace the ceasefires of civilization while the Right refuses to fire back when the Left violates those ceasefires.

    One way ceasefire is surrender
    One way rule of law is subjection
    One way civility is subservience


  11. Seems like this article is missing a “to be sure”…..

  12. There are “bias response teams” on campuses across the country? It’s been a long while since I was on a college campus, obviously.

  13. 1) People are idiots and some people are downright nuts. You want them to be able to get you in trouble for speaking? We have had a campus where a banana peel in a tree shut down a retreat. Yeah, that’s sane for sure.
    2) The Left also insists that it is just fine to wear a pussy hat or vulva costume, have a live dildo demonstration (Northwestern U), shout “F* the police” or “kill white people”, but faint if someone wears a MAGA hat. It would be nice if they could be consistent…..hahahahah just kidding it will never happen

  14. In which the goobers who bring us such conservative educational leaders as Bob Jones, Regent, Liberty, Hillsdale, and Ouachita Baptist propose to lecture on how strong liberal-libertarian schools should operate their campuses . . .

    1. In which Day of the Rope candidates like Arthur L. Hicklib confirm their status as half-educated bobbleheads…

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