Thursday 15 December 2022

University Revises Its Student Snitching System After Legal Group Says It Can’t Punish Protected Speech

 The University of Maine (UMaine) updated its Bias Response Team (BRT) website with a disclaimer stating that it does not have the authority to investigate or punish protected speech after the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a nonprofit legal group, claimed that the system infringed on students’ speech rights, SLF announced on Tuesday.

UMaine’s BRT invites students and faculty to report bias-related incidents that occur on campus, according to its website. SLF wrote in an Oct. 3 letter to the university that the system raises concern about students’ First Amendment rights and could “unconstitutionally chill freedom of expression,” as any activity perceived as bias may be reported.

In response, UMaine issued a note on the BRT website which reassures it will not investigate or punish speech that is constitutionally protected. However, it claimed that it “will still address the negative impact of bias and hate-motivated behavior on the campus community and recommend steps to mitigate these harmful results,” according to its website. 

“The primary role of the [BRT] is to review hate-bias incidents to provide recommendations regarding appropriate university responses based on the nature of the incident and to work collaboratively to provide educational outreach to campus,” the website reads. “BRT seeks to foster a campus community where all identities are supported and feel welcomed.”

“We are pleased to see that UMaine has met our demands by removing the threat of censorship from its website,” Cece O’Leary, director of SFL’s 1A Project, told the Daily Caller News Foundation in reference to the disclaimer. “By revising its policy to clarify that the Bias Response Team lacks authority to take action against students exercising their freedom of speech, UMaine’s bias reporting system appears to comply with the First Amendment.”

“SLF will continue to monitor UMaine’s website to ensure that students’ freedom of speech remains safeguarded,” she continued.

The university also linked to its Free Speech Policy, per SLF’s request, which asserts that the university “fully supports and encourages free speech, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.”

“This is not just a win for students on the University of Maine’s campus; it is a win for students everywhere because yet another college has been forced to publicly walk back its empty threats through a bias reporting system,” SFL general counsel Kimberly Hermann said in a press release. “And we won’t rest until every college fulfills its duty to protect and uphold free speech.”

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