Column: Better Ways to Deal with College Bullying

By on January 12, 2011

Writing for the Asbury Park Press (NJ), Columnist Bob Ingle looks with a critical eye toward the recently proposed "Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act," about which we have written plenty on The Torch. We have laid out our concerns that the proposed federal legislation, introduced in Congress by Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Rush Holt, will lead to even more abuses of First Amendment and free speech rights on university campuses under the given objective of preventing peer harassment and "cyberbullying."

Ingle’s column discusses these and other problems regarding the bill in an insightful fashion. He agrees with us and many other critics of the proposed legislation that it carries major free speech concerns, and quotes FIRE President Greg Lukianoff on this point:

"For decades, colleges have used vague, broad harassment codes to silence even the most innocuous speech on campus," Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights for Education in Philadelphia, wrote on his organization’s web site.

Ingle also decries the massive amount of spending and use of other resources that the bill would require:

It would require colleges and universities that get federal funds to explicitly ban harassment based on sexual orientation and to distribute upgraded anti-bullying policies to students and notify them of counseling and other options. It proposes a $250 million grant program to help schools expand campus anti-bullying programs.

That’s a lot of money, especially considering how college budgets have been cut, resulting in fewer classes, making it take longer to get a degree. Students are graduating head over heels in debt with little opportunity for a good job. That $250 million can be better spent.

This is an important point, well worth considering. Rather than rubber stamp such legislation in a knee-jerk reaction to a tragic event, our policymakers would be better served by carefully examining whether such efforts are likely to be effective in achieving the stated objectives or whether there are better ways to achieve them. As Ingle points out:

Federal law already requires colleges and universities to ban harassment, and campus groups offer counsel and support because it’s the right thing to do. They’re in high schools, too – The Gay-Straight Alliances (www.gsanetwork.org) has a registry of student clubs at more than 4,000 schools. The first was proposed by a straight student wanting to end gay harassment.

Better to deal with the ugliness of harassment directly and strongly and locally to send a message it won’t be tolerated than create by federal edict more bureaucracy eating up more scarce dollars and possibly cause more harm than good.

Well said. Thanks to Bob Ingle and the Asbury Park Press for adding some needed perspective to this significant national issue.

Cases: Federal Anti-Harassment Bill Threatens First Amendment Rights on Campus