This past October, in a post entitled, “East Germany Hits Virginia,” I expressed alarm about a system set up at The College of William and Mary that would allow and encourage anonymous reporting of “bias related to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or other protected conditions.” I wondered at the time whether this pernicious system was a unique phenomenon, or might perhaps be part of a widespread but under-reported trend.
It turns out that bias reporting systems designed in such a way as to seriously threaten free speech and due process are indeed a new, pernicious, and under-reported trend in academia. That’s the bad news. The good news is that FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) is on the case. FIRE has begun to expose poorly-constructed bias reporting systems, and promises to do its best over the coming weeks and months to put a stop to them.
This battle is winnable, but it will not be easy. We get an early indication of the opportunities and challenges from the outcome to date at William and Mary. The flurry of publicity over William and Mary’s anonymous bias reporting scheme has already led to a significant paring back of some of the worst features of the system. (The blogosphere clearly played a role in this.) On the other hand, serious problems with William and Mary’s bias reporting procedures remain.
For an excellent update, see “Unconstitutional ‘Bias Reporting’ Programs: A Nationwide Problem,” at FIRE’s blog, The Torch. FIRE is now targeting bias reporting systems at the University of Virginia, Oregon State University, and Ohio State University. (Students at these schools with concerns about bias reporting systems are invited to contact FIRE.) And according to FIRE: “These are just a few of many similar bias reporting programs in place at institutions across the country.” In fact, the problem may be growing. There are apparently plans to introduce a bias reporting system at Georgetown. It’s worth watching to see whether that system is in fact set up, and whether its features are as problematic as the systems that trouble FIRE.
In any case, I am thrilled that FIRE is on the case. We should also be grateful to the courageous folks at William and Mary who started this controversy (see that blog post at FIRE for more on how that happened). As FIRE notes, up to now, the whole phenomenon of bias reporting systems has flown “under the radar.” Let’s expose it. For earlier posts on bias reporting, go here, here, here, here, and here.