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Report: 2.8 Million Students Attend Universities Where Offensive Speech Is Reported to Bureaucrats or Cops

'Speech police in a quite literal sense'

SpeechFederico MarsicanoWhat is a Bias Response Team? At least 2.8 million students attend a university that maintains one, according to a fascinating new report on the subject by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The report also found something disturbing: 42 percent of the 167 BRTs studied by FIRE include police officers as part of the team. When students at these institutions—many of which were public universities—report speech that offends them to a BRT, they are essentially inviting the cops to violate the free expression rights of other members of campus.

FIRE worries that this arrangement has created "speech police in a quite literal sense." It's not hard to see why the organization—which is dedicated to defending free speech on college campuses—is concerned: many campus BRTs define "bias" in incredibly broad terms. A staggering range of statements and opinions could provoke a response from student conduct officers, university PR officials, and even the cops.

BRTs provide a method for reporting "biased" speech to the authorities using email, or in some cases, a hotline. What counts as bias varies from institution to institution, but often includes hateful speech impugning gender, race, political belief, religion, disability status, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Some institutions embrace even more categories, like "smoker status" (University of Kentucky), "social affiliation" (Syracuse University), or even "body shape" (University of Northern Colorado).

Imagine the deleterious effect this could have on campus debate. For example: If a student mocked another student for joining a fraternity, smoking, and voting for Donald Trump, the student could credibly be accused of perpetrating three different bias incidents—even though it should be perfectly acceptable for a student with a sincere dislike of fraternities, smoking, and Trump to share his beliefs.

We need not consider mere hypotheticals. At the University of Oregon, someone reported a cafeteria poster asking students to clean up after themselves to the BRT because it was "sexist". (The poster presumably said something like, your mother isn't here to do your dishes for you.) A staff member who made "gender-based comments" was referred to Sexual Violence Support services. And the student newspaper's insufficient commitment to transgender issues earned it a talking-to from university officials.

"It is understandable that universities wish to monitor the climate for students on their campuses and to have support systems in place for students who, for one reason or another, may be struggling to feel at home on campus," FIRE's report notes. "But it does not follow from these precepts that universities must effectively establish a surveillance state on campus where students and faculty must guard their every utterance for fear of being reported to and investigated by the administration.

"While not every Bias Response Team impermissibly limits protected speech, the reality is that it is extremely difficult to have a system in place for the reporting of protected speech without creating a risk that speech and expression on campus will be chilled as a result."

Keep in mind that most administrators, student conduct officers, and police officers are not expertly trained in the nuances of the First Amendment. They might not even be aware that public university students enjoy broad free speech rights. Offensive speech is constitutionally protected unless it specifically and objectively threatens violence.

FIRE's report also notes that some universities were reluctant to release records of their BRTs' proceedings, and in some cases, failed to produce requested documentation. It's simply not healthy for college campuses to employ bureaucratic speech police whose activities are shielded from public view.

The report contains one encouraging note, however: some universities, having noticed many of these problems, are shutting down their BRTs. In August of last year, the University of Iowa cancelled plans to create a BRT, citing the "high failure rate of the [teams] at other institutions."

Read FIRE's full report here.

Photo Credit: Federico Marsicano

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  • ||

    The good news is that the TDS has rendered the snowflakes unable to perform their duty of snitch on someone, anyone. No one to snitch on? Make it up, grab it's fucking leg!

  • Quixote||

    The good news is that so many students attend these particular institutions, but it is tempered by the deeply disheartening realization that so many others lack basic protections against offensive speech. This is a terrible scourge that is rapidly undermining social cohesion throughout our great nation. Distinguished professors and academic officials also urgently need to be sheltered, especially from any act of inappropriately deadpan "parody" that damages their reputations. Surely no one here would dare to defend the unpresidented "First Amendment dissent" of a single so-called judge in our nation's leading criminal "satire" case? See the documentation at:

    http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  • Charles Easterly||

    This story seems quite familiar to me, as if I had read it recently.

  • Quixote||

    You have perhaps not read the story itself, but some of the comments posted here by trolls who go around twisting language and stirring up controversy may seem somewhat familiar.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I still can't get a handle on how prevalent these types of things actually are. Are campuses teeming with snowflakes and flamethrowers or is it just a loud few making it seem as such? Obviously the apparatus has been erected to make it a living hell for civil liberties, but how many students, as a percentage of student body populations, are taking advantage to gain the power from victimhood as opposed to those just there to get an education?

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    My guess is small numbers, with larger percentages at certain schools (Oberlin, etc), and much higher percentages within certain majors.

    Most college students are apolitical, or don't have well-formed political views yet. They're trying to get a degree and have a good time, and then move into their careers. That being said, most of my interactions are with engineering students, and they really haven't changed much since I was one 25 years ago.

  • mtrueman||

    "I still can't get a handle on how prevalent these types of things actually are. Are campuses teeming with snowflakes and flamethrowers or is it just a loud few making it seem as such? "

    It's not just campuses. When these kids graduate, and become the corporate drones they're destined for, how much free speech will they enjoy in their work environment. They'll find how easy it is to free speech their way out of a job.

  • Fire Shikha||

    To be sure, your friends on the Left call FIRE a 'rape apologists' and a 'hate group'.

  • FreeRadical||

    Totally OT: what happened to commenter episiarc (SP?)?. He was around for years and now he's not.

  • Lee wishes he made the list...||

    Sugarfree knows. Ask him, if you dare.

  • FreeRadical||

    Oh. Maybe the cost to acquire this information is too high...

  • Charles Easterly||

    I've asked the same question, FR, as I used to enjoy bantering with him. Evidently he simply stopped posting.

  • Basketball Uber Alles, Jr.||

    My understanding is that he took a job for some political candidate, and one condition of employment was staying off of social media and the like, which included commenting.

    Which I don't get. Unless his real name is Episiarch, how would anyone know that this employee of yours is Epi without making specific references? Unless the fear is that the employee would simply let something slip inadvertently.

    TL,DR: I don't know what happened to Epi.

  • Zeb||

    From what I can gather, he did something shitty in real life and as a result won't dare show his face around here anymore because he is a terrible person and now people know it.

  • ||

    Not only that, but 400 million people live in a country where some people get offended! Egads!

  • Basketball Uber Alles, Jr.||

    Bias Reponse Teams should deal with this by beating the shit out of the offenders employing self-defense.

    Violence: it's cool again!

  • Roger the Shrubber||

    Robby approves.

  • dschwar||

    I thought it was Shikha that approved.

  • Free Society||

    Violence: it's cool again!

    Don't mischaracterize Robby's argument, Jr. He clearly said it was "awesome".

  • FreeRadical||

    This is one of those issues where I just can't understand why 100% of the people who encounter the concept of a "BRT" don't recoil in horror at the concept of it.

    It used to be that comparisons to 1984 were mostly hyperbole. Not anymore...

  • DJF||

    Do offenders get put on double secret probation?

    Is it put on their permanent record?

  • DJF||

    The Church of the Offended allows no heretics.

    Burn the Witches, Burn them with Fire!!!!!!!!!

  • Charles Easterly||

    Violence: it's cool again!

    Remain cognizant, Junior, that when agents of the state use "violence" that they are in actuality conducting "defense" for the greater good.

    Here is a non-inclusive and helpful list of statements to help you in the future when you see or read of government agents/office holders doing something that seems to you as if it is a criminal act.

  • Basketball Uber Alles, Jr.||

    Great link, Charles, thanks!

  • Free Society||

    Gee wiz Robby, it's almost as though the left confuses "offensive speech" with "violence". But I'm sure that won't have any consequences for free speech.

  • sarcasmic||

    The left confuses a lot of things. And yes, that is one of them. After all, "offensive speech" makes emotional leftists want to commit acts of violence, therefore the speech itself must be an act violence upon them.

  • Free Society||

    To paraphrase Dalmia: We can't condemn the rioters without first condemning the campus Republicans who invited someone that violent children disagree with.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Well said.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    I suppose the irony of crying that Trump is a "fascist" by people who insist that college campuses be run as police states is lost on the Left.

  • commodious rebrands||

    How fucking backward are these people? They want cops to police speech but not rapes. They believe making certain sentiments known on campus violates some nebulous right to not hear bad things, but violating an actual Constitutional right is fine. They're willing to violate due process at the behest of kangaroo courts, and are willing to court lawsuits in doing so.

    Lunatics. They're lunatics.

  • ||

    And if you notice, it is lunatics who are usually behind these stories.

    #cumstainedmattress

  • commodious rebrands||

    It's a madhouse! A MADHOUSE!

  • ||

    "It is understandable that universities wish to monitor the climate for students on their campuses and to have support systems in place for students who, for one reason or another, may be struggling to feel at home on campus"

    No, it's not understandable nor is it acceptable.

    Would what's going on on campuses make it to Broadway's interpretation of '1984'.

  • FreeRadical||

    I choked on that too. Most schools already have generic counseling services that can help fragile students. Most schools also support student groups of many types* that can provide people the ability to gather with like-minded people.

    Anything more than that is just Orwellian bullshit.

    *Well, except for certain ones that violate... something.

  • Zeb||

    It's understandable in that it is possible, with sufficient imagination, to comprehend that someone might think that way.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    This is just pre-emptive self defense. And besides, if you're truly innocent, you'll have no trouble proving it. Because that's how America works.

  • uncletom_1||

    Sort of OT but I've found myself reading and rereading this without wanting to believe it: http://www.slate.com/articles/.....shing.html

    Can I just say fuck you Edward Said? A straight line from that Orientalist nonsense to this PC snowflake diversity nonsense.

  • SomeGuy||

    i hate people :/

  • josh||

    I'm in favor of passing a new law asap. when someone complains about a poster asking you to clean up after yourself, or something similar, you have the legal authority to slap them as hard as you can.

  • MaleMatters||

    Campus censorship = liberals
    Liberals = Democrats
    Democrats =

    "The whole Democratic Party is now a smoking pile of rubble: In state government things are worse, if anything. The GOP now controls historical record number of governors' mansions, including a majority of New England governorships. Tuesday's election swapped around a few state legislative houses but left Democrats controlling a distinct minority. The same story applies further down ballot, where most elected attorneys general, insurance commissioners, secretaries of state, and so forth are Republicans." http://www.vox.com/policy-and-.....ile-rubble

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