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Education

Do Colleges Really Need ‘Bias Response Teams’?

Among the most Orwellian of the trends on American college campuses is the “bias response team.” The idea behind them is that students must be protected against any expression of “bias.” If a student were to hear or read anything with “bias” in it, he might feel bad, and we can’t have that.

In today’s Martin Center essay, Dan Way of the John Locke Foundation looks into the spread of bias response teams. In North Carolina, ten colleges and universities have them.

But just what does “bias” entail? Here’s the definition at UNC–Asheville:

An act of discrimination, harassment, intimidation, violence or criminal offense committed against any person, group or property that appears to be intentional and motivated by prejudice or bias. Such are usually associated with negative feelings and beliefs with respect to others’ race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, political affiliation, disability, veteran status, club affiliation or organizational membership.

That is so broad that it allows students who want to punish someone they disagree with to file a complaint merely out of spite.

As Way points out, the bias team itself doesn’t mete out punishment, but the process of the investigation is itself a kind of punishment. The result is a campus climate where everyone (students, faculty, even administrators) have to try to figure out if something they say might cause a bias complaint to be filed. The safe thing is to avoid controversial topics.

Way interviewed some students who don’t like it that they have to worry about being hauled up on bias charges:

“I feel like people should be able to have freedom of speech with what they say, especially if it’s politics, as long as they’re not harassing other people,” said Jacob Matlock of Fayetteville, a communications student at North Carolina State University who was surprised to learn his university has a Bias Impact Response Team.

The good news (if you like free speech), is that some schools have dropped their bias response systems and the U.S. Department of Justice has taken an interest in the case that has been filed agains the University of Michigan’s system.

Way concludes that college administrators should stop pandering to those who believe that speech must be regulated to eliminate “bias” and instead “focus on advocating for students to combat protected but offensive speech with more speech — to engage in constructive dialogue.”

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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