The University of Michigan made some changes after the Department of Justice filed a statement backing a case against the school’s anti-harassment policy — removing a part of the policy that said that “the most important indication of bias is your own feelings.”
In a statement of interest for the Speech First, Inc., v. Schlissel case, the Justice Department stated that the university’s anti-bullying and harassment policy was “unconstitutional because it offers no clear, objective definitions of the violations” but rather “refers students to a wide array of ‘examples of various interpretations that exist for the terms,’ many of which depend on a listener’s subjective reaction to speech.”
The department’s brief, which was filed on Monday, also specifically took issue with the university’s Bias Response Team, arguing that the school’s subjective definition of “bias” gave students’ feelings too much authority in stifling speech.
“Our nation’s public universities and colleges were established to promote diversity of thought and robust debate, so we must not accept when they instead use their authority to stifle these principles on their campuses,” Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement. “Attorney General Jeff Sessions is committed to promoting free speech on college campuses, and the Department is proud to have played a role in the numerous campus free speech victories this year.”
“The Justice Department will continue to seek opportunities to defend free speech — no matter the political ideology espoused — in order to defend our nation’s great traditions and the ability of its citizens to engage in meaningful discourse,” O’Malley continued.
U of M’s new definitions for bullying and harassment are now the same as those found in Michigan law.
Now, it’s obviously a good thing that the University of Michigan changed this ridiculous explanation of what “bias” means, but it shouldn’t have taken a statement from the Department of Justice for it to do so. Saying that “the most important indication of bias is your own feelings” is not just slightly off, it’s completely incorrect. Feelings aren’t facts — they’re feelings. It’s entirely possible for there to be an instance where a student may feel that he or she has been a victim of bias, even though the reality is that he or she has not been one. A policy like this would put that student’s feelings about the situation — wrong or not — above the actual reality of it. As important as feelings are, it’s never good to make them more important than reality — especially when it could result in getting another person in trouble for something that he or she didn’t even really do.
As important as feelings are, it’s never good to make them more important than reality.
The president of Speech First, Nicole Neily, told Reason that U of M’s language change does not mean that the case is going to be dropped.
“The University’s reply brief is due this Friday (June 15), and our response is due June 29,” she said. “We look forward to our day in court.”