Clarity sought on student harassment definition

January 16, 2012

National organizations fighting for individual rights are asking the Department of Education to defend free speech on campuses by better defining what constitutes student harassment. 

Eleven organizations sent an open letter to the department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) asking them to provide better standards concerning student harassment. Robert Shibley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, one of the 11, says a Supreme Court decision could be a model.
  
"Let’s use the Supreme Court’s way of doing it, instead of having a fragmented way that is often very restrictive toward free speech on campus," he urges. 
 
He says a 1999 decision determining when a school would be liable for allowing sexual harassment to take place on campus could be used.  "In that decision the Supreme Court came up with a very exacting standard for what constitutes sexual harassment when it was a student-on-student situation," Shibley explains. "We’re asking OCR to use that definition when they determine what sorts of policies against sexual harassment universities have to have." 
 
Shibley says recent restrictions on campuses around the country have prohibited a lot of speech that is commonly used by nearly everyone and which is protected by the First Amendment.