May 3, 2011

Letter to the Editor: The right language on student rights

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To the Editor:

Re: “Panel Discusses Proposed Bill of Rights,” News, April 25

While I strongly agree with Rep. Andrew Brokman ’11 on the need for a student bill of rights, his initial proposal includes language from controversial anti-harassment and discrimination legislation Brokman lobbied for in the past, legislation criticized for being too broad and actually threatening students’ rights.

In Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, the Supreme Court established a clear standard for harassment that ensured harassment claims would not impede on freedom of speech. Brokman’s bill, however, references language in University Policy 6.4 that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has identified as a red-light speech code.

Unlike the court’s standard, this standard omits the requirement that the standards for harassment are objective, and even worse, these standards include the phrase “offensive environment.” The right not to be offended makes a mockery of the First Amendment, empowering the most easily offended students by their subjective standards to file spurious harassment claims for speech they do not like.

Additionally, the anti-discrimination clause is eerily similar to the last year’s controversial  “anti-discrimination” bill, Resolution 44. This clause applies to all programs that are a part of “University’s educational programs and activities.” Past arguments that independent student organizations both play a role in the University’s educational environment and are related to the University (despite their claims to independent status) via the resources they receive, such as the right to reserve room and most importantly money, could easily be sufficient grounds to turn this non-discrimination clause into another Resolution 44.

Brokman will debate semantics on a few of my points, but vague or possibly contradictory language is simple unacceptable in a student bill of rights. If students have any doubts on whether their rights are actually protected, then the only sure way to ensure they stay out of trouble is self-censorship.

Mike Wacker ’10