FIRE’s recent press release absolutely floored me. I’ve seen quite a few bad university policies and programs in my career, but I have never seen anything quite so vague, so intrusive, so Orwellian as the monstrosity FIRE challenges at Michigan State. FIRE describes the program this way:
The university’s Student Accountability in Community Seminar (SAC) forces students whose speech or behavior is deemed unacceptable to undergo ideological reeducation at their own expense . . According to the program’s materials, SAC is an “early intervention” for students who use such “power-and-control tactics” as “male/white privilege” and “obfuscation,” which the university cryptically defines as “any action of obscuring, concealing, or changing people’s perceptions that result in your advantage and/or another’s disadvantage.” Students can be required to attend SAC if they demonstrate what a judicial administrator arbitrarily deems aggressive behavior, past examples of which have included slamming a door during an argument or playing a practical joke. Students can also be required to attend SAC for engaging in various types of constitutionally protected speech, including “insulting instructors” or “making sexist, homophobic, or racist remarks at a meeting.” When participation in SAC is required, “non-compliance typically results in a hold being placed on the student’s account,” an action that leaves the student unable to register for classes and thus effectively expelled from the university. Students are required to pay the cost of the SAC sessions.
Once in the program, students are instructed to answer a series of written questionnaires. In their answers, students must specifically describe how they are taking “full responsibility” for their offensive behavior and must do so using language that the director of the session deems acceptable. Most students will be asked to fill out this questionnaire multiple times, slowly inching closer to what administrators deem to be “correct” responses.
What, pray tell, does it mean to show “male/white privilege” or “obfuscation?” Could any reasonable person even understand what is prohibited? But then again, I suppose that is the entire point of the reeducation program. You are not only educated as to what you did wrong, you are told — question by question, answer by answer — how to become a better person, as defined by Michigan’s no doubt entirely virtuous and perfectly wise state employees.
Michigan State has told FIRE that it is “reviewing” the SAC program. To even grant the program a “review” is to grant it too much credence. There is no conceivable constitutional defense to such a program, and it must end immediately.