[lg policy] Free speech policies under fire

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Tue Apr 10 10:39:49 EDT 2018

 Free speech policies under fire

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Cindy FolefackNews Editor
Watchdog organization gives UTD low rating for limiting First Amendment

UTD’s campus policies may be limiting free speech among students and
faculty, according to a watchdog organization.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education examines free speech
policies at public and private universities nationwide, then rates those
policies on scale from least to most restrictive. The organization
currently has policies from over 450 institutions, and UTD received a red
light rating from FIRE, meaning it has at least one policy that explicitly
limits freedom of speech.

The rating was given as a result of the university’s sexual harassment
policy, which initially defines sexual harassment before detailing other
forms of sexual violence and the consequences that follow. FIRE’s Policy
Reform Program Officer Laura Beltz explained the policy is split into two
different locations of the handbook, which may cause confusion among
students, so it’s evaluated as two policies rather than one. The first half
of the policy, which gives a general description of sexual harassment
including “verbal conduct,” was seen as a clear limitation of free speech
by the watchdog organization.

“This might have what we call a chilling effect on protected speech, which
means that students reading it might avoid saying anything controversial
just to avoid punishment under the policy,” Beltz said.

In addition to the sexual harassment policy’s rating, FIRE also gave the
school’s overall harassment policy a yellow light, meaning vague wording
allows the policy to be ambiguous and used to limit free speech. The
website specifically mentions “verbal abuse” as an example of this type of
wording, which is the exact language used in UTD’s harassment policy. UT
Austin and UT Arlington have red and yellow light ratings, respectively.

Despite UTD’s rating, the university’s speech expression and assembly
policy received a green light, meaning student expression and assembly is
unrestricted in terms of policy. College Democrats President Fawaz Anwar
agrees with this sentiment, citing the appearance of conservative comedian
Steven Crowder after being sponsored by the College Republicans in February.

“UTD itself is not really home to political clashes or even that much
ideological debate,” Anwar said. “As far as I can tell, most students here
aren’t interested in starting something like that.”

Anwar added he would like to see the handbook become more accessible to the
student body. The university’s policies can currently be found on the UTD
president’s website under Policies.

“A lot of our policies … are a bit hard to find. UT Dallas itself is a much
more low key campus than that, but this is still a university,” Anwar said.
“There’s still supposed to be a discourse of ideas here.”

Beltz said FIRE hasn’t been in contact with UTD after it was added to the
database last year, but Dean of Students Amanda Smith, who serves on the
Handbook of Operating Procedures Committee said the university is open to
reviewing its policies, a process that occurs at minimum every five years.

“Individuals who oversee policies are always very open to take a look at
those policies and make necessary changes, so I feel very confident if that
is something that our student body, faculty, staff or administrators felt
was a huge issue on our campus, it would be a discussion that would
happen,” Smith said. “Nobody would put up an argument to not have that

Smith said she’s currently satisfied with the policy, as she hasn’t
received any student complaints regarding free speech and attributes this
to the school’s diversity.

“I feel like our students are very thirsty for knowledge and information,
so those debates are something that they engage in,” Smith said. “But
they’re very open to hearing what other people have to say, and that’s
something that I don’t think you find just anywhere.”


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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