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Free Speech Group Squashes University’s Bias Reporting System In Court

An Illinois college will be forced to amend a handful of policies that were allegedly used as mechanisms to silence on-campus speech.
The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. Citing long waits, denials and visa cancellations that take away from teaching time and academic progress, presidents and chancellors from nearly 30 Illinois colleges and universities are pushing for lawmakers to do more to help international students and scholars who face new obstacles tied to immigration policy.
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The University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign will be forced to amend a handful of policies that were allegedly used as mechanisms to silence on-campus speech, ending a nearly two year legal battle with a free speech organization.

Speech First, a legal group that tackles campus speech issues, filed a lawsuit against the University of Illinois in May 2019 for upholding policies they claim were prejudiced against students with unpopular beliefs. Shortly before the Illinois Supreme Court was set to review the case, the university settled and agreed to amend or remove the disputed policies. 

According to a copy of the settlement memorandum obtained by The Daily Wire, the university agreed to nix a policy that required administrative approval for students to post flyers and promotional material that discuss politics around campus. By settling, the university agreed it cannot reinstate the provision at a future date. 

“These policy changes clarify that the university administration may not intimidate students into silence by accusing them of ‘bias,’” Speech First founder Nicole Neily told The Daily Wire. “As an alumna, I was particularly dismayed to see an institution that I once loved employing draconian, unconstitutional policies to muzzle speech with which they disagreed.”

Other policies that will be amended deal with the university’s “Bias Response Team,” which Speech First sees as mechanisms to chill right-of-center speech. 

Bias Response Teams are a relatively new measure deployed by universities to combat “hate speech” and prejudice on campus. The tactic asks students to tattle on their peers to a Bias Response Team, which proceeds to monitor and investigate “problematic” students and faculty. Many bias teams use law enforcement and student conduct administrators to enforce their rules. 

According to a 2017 report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, 2.84 million American students across 231 campuses are subject to this peer-on-peer surveillance model. 

Speech First argues that such policies can be used to chill the speech of students who speak about politically incorrect topics on college campuses, many of which tilt heavily in favor of liberal ideologies.

At the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, the three disputed policies up for amendment include the university’s “Bias Assessment Response Team” (BART) provisions, a housing-related “Bias Incident Protocol” (BIP), and the university’s “No Contact Directives.” Under current policy, a student who has been reported to either BART or BIP is subject to a meeting and potential punishment. 

For example, if Student A says he voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 election and Student B is offended by this comment — regardless of whether Student B was physically present for the conversation for not — Student B can report Student A to the BART. Student A would be required to speak with a representative from the BART and may face punishments for offending his peer. 

Following the settlement, it will no longer be mandatory for students at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign to speak with a BART representative following a “bias-motivated incident.” If a student declines to speak with the response team, they will not be disciplined either. 

The university will also reconfigure its “No Contact Directives,” which tells students they cannot have any verbal or physical contact with another student that has reported them. Per the example above, under “No Contact Directives,” Student A would no longer be allowed to be near or speak with Student B. 

New campus policies will direct disciplinary officers to confirm a motive beyond “bias-motivated speech” to pursue a “No Contact Directives.” 

Speech First said it is proud that this settlement has clarified where the school’s authority ends. 

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