Culture

The Orwellian Charge of the Campus Bias Response Team

(Photo Illustration: NRO)
American higher education sinks deeper into the muck.

A professor at the University of Northern Colorado assigned Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s “The Coddling of the American Mind” to his students — and watched as they proved the essay’s point.

According to a report obtained by Heat Street, students filed a complaint with the school’s “Bias Response Team” based on the professor’s lesson. The professor, whose name has been redacted, seems to have assigned the essay as part of a broader lesson about the value of debate: After reading “The Coddling of the American Mind,” students were instructed to chart out competing arguments on topics such as transgenderism, abortion, and global warming.

Doubtless, the professor intended to use those first-order issues as a bridge to the more challenging second-order question: Why does debating controversial subjects provoke so much controversy itself? Instead, he unwittingly gave the world more proof that American higher education has gone off the rails: The mere notion that people disagreed about such issues was, apparently, cause for an investigation. The Bias Response Team was put on the case.

What, precisely, is a Bias Response Team? Around the country, universities are increasingly using them as part of an effort to do . . . something. The University of Northern Colorado describes that something as follows in response to an inquiry: “The intent of the bias-response team is to facilitate discussions between members of the campus community when non-legal concerns of offensive behavior are reported.” UNC offers further assurance that “there’s nothing punitive about” Bias Response hearings, and that “this is about understanding, not punishment.”

A Bias Response Team is an authoritarian tool with a stupid name.

Understand this: A Bias Response Team is an authoritarian tool with a stupid name. The process begins when a student reports an incident to the school administration. Administrators then investigate and share their concerns with the party responsible for the incident. The involvement of school administrators, who retain power over students and faculty alike, crosses the line. When an authority figure says to a professor, Maybe you shouldn’t teach that anymore, it is not a mere suggestion. It is not “dialogue” between two equal parties. It is an implicit threat.

Worse, someone can be investigated and threatened by the Bias Response Team without actually doing anything wrong. The school says that even “when incidents don’t rise to the level of discriminatory or criminal behavior requiring formal action, the actions may still run counter to UNC’s commitment to foster civility and inclusivity.” Staying within the bounds of university policy is apparently not enough; one must become a veritable champion of vague platitudes. Here again, free expression is threatened. It is easy to demonstrate compliance when the rules have determinate boundaries. Not so when they completely elide definition.

#related#Bask in the school’s doublespeak: “UNC is committed to being a place that supports the free and vigorous exchange of ideas in building understanding. Promoting dialogue around how we use language fits with that tenet.” Ah, yes, dialogue. Dialogue between students and those with the power to expel them. Dialogue between faculty and those who control their occupational future. Dialogue such as, In assigning this essay, you violated a student’s right to feel comfortable. Don’t speak that way again.

Don’t you just love dialogue? Think carefully before you answer.

— Theodore Kupfer is an intern at National Review.

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