The University of Montana is responding to criticism that a recent agreement signed between the university and the federal government is a violation of the First Amendment, and would allow for students and faculty to be punished on mere accusations alone.
Peggy Kuhr, the Vice President for Integrated Communications at The University of Montana says some of the folks who are criticizing the agreement may be jumping the gun a bit, because they have not seen the university’s revised policies and procedures, adding that the policies and procedures haven’t been completed or shared.
“It is important to note that there is nothing in the agreement with DOJ/OCR that requires us to adopt any specific policies and procedures,” says Kuhr. “We are required to have policies that include “accurate definitions of various types of sex discrimination, including sexual harassment and sexual assault …In revising our policies and procedures we certainly will be mindful of the 1st and 14th Amendments.”
My initial post is below as Greg Lukianoff with the Foundation for Inidividual Rights in Education first took aim at the agreement in a guest opinion column for The Wall Street Journal.
Conservative commentator and free speech advocate George Will also highlighted concerns with the agreement in his nationally syndicated column for The Washington Post.
Here’s an excerpt from Will’s piece:
Responding to what it considers the University of Montana’s defective handling of complaints about sexual assaults, OCR, in conjunction with the Justice Department, sent the university a letter intended as a “blueprint” for institutions nationwide when handling sexual harassment, too. The letter, sent on May 9, encourages (see below) adoption of speech codes — actually, censorship regimes — to punish students who:
Make “sexual or dirty jokes” that are “unwelcome.” Or disseminate “sexual rumors” (even if true) that are “unwelcome.” Or make “unwelcome” sexual invitations. Or engage in the “unwelcome” circulation or showing of “e-mails or Web sites of a sexual nature.” Or display or distribute “sexually explicit drawings, pictures, or written materials” that are “unwelcome.”
Hans Bader, a former OCR lawyer now with the limited-government Competitive Enterprise Institute, notes that this “Alice in Wonderland” — “sentence first, verdict afterwards” — system “casts a cloud over academic freedom and the ability to discuss topics that are offensive to some listeners.” Indeed, to one listener.
The phrase “innocent until proven guilty” has become more American than apple pie. But that standard may no longer apply at The University of Montana and colleges elsewhere according to an op-ed column by Greg Lukianoff. Lukianoff is the president of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
Here’s a snapshot of what he had to say in The Wall Street Journal focusing on the recent agreement between The University of Montana and the federal government:
…the joint letter, which announced a “resolution agreement” with the university, didn’t stop there. It then proceeded to rewrite the federal government’s rules about sexual harassment and free speech on campus.
The letter further states that campuses have “an obligation to respond to student-on-student harassment” even when that harassment occurs off-campus. In some circumstances, the letter says, universities may take “disciplinary action against the harasser” even “prior to the completion of the Title IX and Title IV investigation/resolution.” In plain English: Students can be punished before they are found guilty of harassment.
Given that the letter represents an interpretation of federal law by major federal agencies, most colleges will regard it as binding. Noncompliance threatens federal funding, including Pell grants and Stafford loans.