The University of Texas, a public college, is under fire for reportedly stifling free speech on campus. Now, free speech advocates are suing the institution.
According to Speech First, a nationwide community and advocacy group focused on fighting to protect the First Amendment, UT’s speech policies, the campus climate response team, and the school’s residence hall manuals all have policies in place that stifle the free debate of ideas.
In its release regarding the lawsuit, Speech First reported the school received “more than 100 reports of alleged ‘expressions of bias,’” which included posts on social media, fliers, verbal comments, posters, and others. These reports were all investigated by the school’s “bias response team” since September 2017, spreading fear on campus.
According to Speech First, this approach to speech crackdown prompted students to think twice before discussing matters such as abortion, immigration, and identity politics.
To the group, students now “fear their speech will be anonymously reported as derogatory, hostile, and/or offensive to university authorities through the Campus Climate Response Team.”
In addition to targeting the school’s bias task force, Speech First is also questioning UT’s response to speech considered “offensive.”
Because the school has failed to clearly define the terms it uses to describe unwanted speech in its Residence Hall Manual and Acceptable Use Policy, the group explains, the school “failed to appropriately safeguard students’ First Amendment rights,” Speech First President Nicole Neily told reporters.
“Students deserve to be able to express themselves and voice their opinions without fear of investigation or punishment – which is why these policies must be reformed.”
One of the cases highlighted by the group involved the Young Conservatives of Texas.
After the organization set up a table supporting then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who had been accused of assault but never convicted, the group suffered attacks from those who disagreed with them. And many students even said the school should have done more to shut them down.
After the incident, students said that pro-Kavanaugh posters “triggered” sexual assault survivors, pressuring the school to respond. UT eventually issued a statement saying that while it supports free speech it does not support messages that promote violence and threats.
On another occasion, UT cracked down on themed Halloween parties that would encourage “bigoted costumes” such as country or “border-themed” events.
The Public School As An Arm Of The State
To Speech First’s Niely, the problem isn’t about students debating their colleagues or trying to shun each other. What bothers freedom of speech advocates is that “a school as a state actor [is] stepping in and picking winners and losers.” She is right.
A college, especially a public one, stands as an arm of the state, especially in the minds of its students. To use this power to impose a point of view, no matter how harmless it may seem, is stifling the debate and shielding students from going through experiences that will push them to become better versions of themselves.
It’s time we begin to look at this nationwide trend of schools targeting free speech in the name of political correctness as the threat that it really is, especially to the younger generations.