Adam Kissel on Threat Assessment Teams in ‘USA TODAY’

By on January 14, 2011

In USA TODAY, reporter Mary Beth Marklein reports on the threat to students’ free speech rights posed by "threat assessment teams" at colleges and universities. She reports that in the wake of the Arizona shooting, questions are now being raised about the teams’ "appropriateness and effectiveness." Marklein portrays Valdosta State University student Hayden Barnes’ struggle with free speech and due process (a case in which FIRE continues to be heavily involved) as an example of these teams’ hazards:

Other critics say administrators may try to use threat assessment teams for their own purposes. In a case involving a student dismissed from Valdosta State University, a federal judge ruled that the former president improperly called for an investigation into the student’s mental health, employment and grades mostly because the student opposed plans to build a campus parking garage.

Marklein notes that these teams encourage students, faculty, and staff to submit confidential reports when they encounter concerning behavior. But as Hayden’s case proves, these teams sometimes serve as vehicles to chill individual rights on college campuses for inappropriate reasons. As FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel told Marklein:

"Putting innocent outbursts into a campus database is a chilling way to police discourse on campus," says Adam Kissel, vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "In the name of security, behavioral intervention teams are encouraged to go far beyond what they need to do."

Schools: Valdosta State University Cases: Valdosta State University: Student Expelled for Peacefully Protesting Parking Garages