The speech police at UNLV


American universities are supposed to be bastions of open discourse and free thought. Instead, they've too often become safe havens for the easily offended, places where well-paid, ivory-tower academics plot to indoctrinate and punish anyone who challenges their sensibilities through acts of free expression.

That's not the kind of academic environment most taxpayers support. Fortunately, neither does Nevada university system Chancellor Jim Rogers.

Over the past year, UNLV administrators have been developing a speech code that requires campus police to investigate the hurt feelings of anyone exposed to free expression that upsets them. The final draft of the university's "Policy on Bias Incidents and Hate Crimes" was completed March 9. At the request of the Board of Regents, it was set to take effect July 1. The policy defines bias incidents as "verbal, written, or physical acts of intimidation, coercion, interference, frivolous claims, discrimination, and sexual or other harassment motivated, in whole or in part, by bias."

Under the policy, administrators retained the ability to investigate and counsel alleged offenders even if police determine no crime was committed. It identifies certain offenses as "hate crimes" even though no such classification of crime exists under Nevada statute.

The potential for abuse was almost unlimited. The policy encouraged students to file reports even if they lacked witnesses or corroborating evidence. Its vague definitions allowed anyone to claim any social interaction or classroom activity as a bias incident. And anyone who reports a bias incident is guaranteed anonymity if they want it, potentially denying the accused the right to face their accusers. The policy would have given anyone with an ax to grind over a bad grade or a soured relationship the power to exact revenge.

During the process of drafting the policy, UNLV's vice president for diversity and inclusion, Christine Clark, and other administrators met with a broad range of faculty who expressed exactly these concerns. They warned that the policy posed a threat to academic freedom and critical thought and infringed upon First Amendment rights. But Ms. Clark and the administration moved forward with their own agenda anyway.

Some of those faculty then sought the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. The ACLU pointed out the policy's obvious constitutional flaws and offered to help the university rewrite it.

But Mr. Rogers needed all of half an hour Monday to review the 14-page policy and declare it a "tear-up and a redo."

"Bias? How in the hell are you going to define bias?" Mr. Rogers said.

Exactly. In response, UNLV President David Ashley said Monday that he would appoint a four-member task force to redraft the policy in time to obtain ACLU support and Board of Regents approval by July 1.

But this is the wrong approach entirely. UNLV has somehow managed to grow and improve its reputation over the past half-century without a speech code or "bias incident" policy of any kind. Existing state and federal law, along with UNLV's student and faculty codes of conduct, provide more than enough protection from civil rights violations and actual criminal conduct. Support of this kind of heavy-handed intervention by a public institution would all but make UNLV a police state.

That so much time was wasted on this unconstitutional boondoggle by so many high-level public officials, especially when the higher education system is arguing that its budgets have been cut to the bone, is inexcusable. This is an indictment of the leadership of the elected Board of Regents and President Ashley. It is nothing more than a sop to the politically correct.

If they want to redeem themselves, they won't try to rewrite this "bias policy." They'll kill it, once and for all.

 

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