ACLU works toward harrassment policy change

April 13, 2006

Thanks to efforts by national and campus organizations, Appalachian State University’s Housing & Residence Life department has removed an unconstitutional section from its harassment policy.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy mentioned the policy in question in their “Report on the State of the First Amendment in the University of North Carolina System,” published in January.

The policy stated, “harassment or the use of abusive language, insults, taunts or challenges directed toward another person are prohibited.”

According to the report, “this policy is unconstitutionally overbroad.”

After reading the report, the campus chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union began to work with administrators, including the assistant university attorney, to change the policy.

“College is a place where free speech should be given the utmost protection,” Appalachian ACLU President Paul Funderburk said.

According to precedent set by the 1999 Supreme Court case Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, for a student’s behavior to be considered dangerous harassment, that harassment must be “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit.”

Funderburk said Appalachian’s policy was so vague that it violated this precedent.

Administrators repealed the policy and removed it from the university’s Web site.

“App State’s policies are not perfect, but the university has taken a tremendous step forward,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff.

According to the report, “13 out of the 16 schools in the UNC System have at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”

Funderburk said, “Without FIRE’s assistance, this affront to free expression would have gone unnoticed.”

FIRE has updated its national student rights Web site, “Spotlight: the Campus Freedom Resource,” to reflect the university’s changes, but Appalachian is still a “red light” school.

Appalachian’s ACLU chapter is currently working on the university’s tunnel painting policy.

“We’re doing this so students know what they can and can’t write in the tunnels,” Funderburk said. The new policy should provide students with a clear definition of the difference between constitutional freedom of speech and defamation and threats, he said.

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Schools: Appalachian State University Cases: Appalachian State University: Speech Code Repeal