Free Speech

Virginia Tech Computer Policy Banning "Intimidation, Harassment, and Unwarranted Annoyance" Is Unconstitutionally Vague and Overbroad

So holds a federal district court.

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From Speech First, Inc. v. Sands, decided Tuesday by Chief District Judge Michael Urbanski (W.D. Va.):

The [Virginia Tech] computer policy's prohibition on "intimidation, harassment, and unwarranted annoyance" is clearly vague and overbroad. It fails to define or otherwise cabin the application of any of these terms. Its vague prohibition on "unwarranted annoyance" is particularly troubling, asking students to guess what kinds of annoyance may be warranted or not. Given its text and active—albeit rare—enforcement, there is "a realistic danger that the [policy] itself will significantly compromise recognized First Amendment protections…." … [A] student of ordinary intelligence "reading the policy would have no way of knowing whether his or her conduct was proscribed, and the policy creates a strong risk that it could sweep in conduct that is protected under the First Amendment." Speech First is likely to succeed on the merits of its challenge to this provision of the computer policy….

The court denied a preliminary injunction against

  1. the university's Bias Response Team, on the grounds that it "lacks any authority to discipline or otherwise punish students for anything" and thus doesn't have sufficient coercive power to trigger the First Amendment,
  2. the university's policy restricting "harassing" speech, on the grounds that the challengers' planned speech wouldn't fall within that policy in any event, and
  3. the policy require groups to reserve space before leafletting or gathering petition signatures, on the grounds that "whether Virginia Tech's time, place, and manner restrictions are reasonable as a matter of law" "is a fact-intensive inquiry that requires a more developed record, perhaps including information about the demands on reservable spaces by RSOs and the availability of alternatives for students who are not members of RSOs."

On items 1 and 2, the court largely agreed with Judge Helene White's dissent as to a similar policy in Speech First, Inc. v. Schlissel (6th Cir. 2019).

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  1. the university’s Bias Response Team, on the grounds that it “lacks any authority to discipline or otherwise punish students for anything” and thus doesn’t have sufficient coercive power to trigger the First Amendment,

    So why does it exist at all?

    1. To discourage politically-incorrect speech by students and faculty.

    2. To give the university administration the appearance of doing something.

    3. My university’s bias response team equivalent (the name might’ve been slightly different) would publicize reports without explicitly naming people, in a pretty clear attempt to drum up social condemnation. It wasn’t very effective because they did this on a Tumblr and how would anybody know about it to follow it? They stopped that a few years back though.

    4. So why does it exist at all?

      To investigate?

      1. And then …. ?

        If the bias response team had no teeth, then it had no purpose. I can’t remember the quote, something like “Intellect without power is worthless.” Well, here we have a team gathering intelligence but lacks any power to do anything with it. Hence is worthless.

        As others have noted, this is political fodder or graft–probably both. The school can say “See what I did!” and then they can give out $100k+ salaries to their buddies.

        1. The idea is that the university assumes it is systematically failing certain groups and such a team can reveal exactly how that happens without needing to punish individuals. In reality, it’s mostly an excuse to expand the administration and make good PR.

        2. Or maybe it investigates, and then someone else does something with the results of the investigation?

      2. Bias Response Team should be reported to itself. It is a hate speech, attack dog against patriotic Americans. It has a disparate impact on them, and is highly discriminatory.

        VT should be reported to the IRS Non-Profit Office. It should be mandamused to pull the tax exemption due to the Chinese Commie indoctrination being imposed on intelligent, ethical and patriotic students.

        The Office of Civil Rights of the Education Department should receive a complaint about the race hatred going on at the school. This KKK like school should lose its accreditation for its attack on patriotic students.

        1. Such legal consequences are much better than beating the ass of this Commie President, and forcing him to wear a tall dunce cap in the main square.

      3. But does it have any powers to investigate ?

        ie if X accuses Y of saying something hurtful, can the “Bias Response Team” require Y to turn up at 4pm on Friday to give an account of his conduct.

        Is it just toothless as to punishment per se, or also toothless as to the punishment of process ?

    5. Maybe related to this: “Submitted reports are emailed to dean.students@vt.edu and will be reviewed by a staff member, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Reports submitted after hours or during holidays will be reviewed on the next workday following the submission. Reporters should expect a response, if requested, within 24 hours.

      If this is an emergency or requires an immediate response, call 911.”

      https://saapps.students.vt.edu/bias/

      Not sure what coercive powers the Dean of Students lacks.

  2. Any school with a “bias response team” should not receive any funding from the government.

    1. Correct. Nor any subsidies, exemptions, or accreditation.

    2. I would cut off all public funding of colleges / universities and let them have as many “bias response teams” as they like.

  3. “whether Virginia Tech’s time, place, and manner restrictions are reasonable as a matter of law” “is a fact-intensive inquiry that requires a more developed record blah blah blah

    I remember people, correctly, screaming bloody murder about ludicrous “free speech zones”, well away from parade routes and paths dictators were taking to the White House.

    But you know, when you get to forbid speech content and location…

  4. If annoying speech was prohibited, liberals wouldn’t be able to say much of anything.

    1. All their speech is in service to the interests of the Chinese Commie Party, to destroy our country from within. It should not be tolerated.

  5. I would cut off all public funding of colleges / universities and let them have as many “bias response teams” as they like.

    1. it was dumb the first time you said it.

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