by Gabriella Morrongiello
Free speech and due process guaranteed by the First and Fifth Amendments remains intact on college campuses as federal officials have backed away from implementing the “blueprint” for campus speech restrictions issued by the Departments of Education (DOE) and Justice (DOJ) in May.
The guidelines on campus speech restrictions were developed after the DOE and DOJ carried out a joint investigation into allegations of sexual assault that occurred at the University of Montana.
“The investigation found that six football players were accused of aiding, attempting or committing sexual assault from spring 2009 to spring 2012 and that three of the players weren’t prosecuted through the campus judicial system for more than a year after their coach was notified that the victim had filed a complaint with the Missoula Police Department,” the Huffington Post reported in May.
According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the agencies’ settlement with the University of Montana “sought to impose new, unconstitutional speech restrictions, due-process abuses, and an overbroad definition of sexual harassment and proclaimed the agreement to be ‘a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country’.”
“It even provides that students accused of sexual harassment may be punished before the investigation is complete, lending a true ‘Alice in Wonderland’ quality to the whole endeavor. As the Queen of Hearts said: ‘Sentence first-verdict afterwards!’,” wrote FIRE’s Senior Vice President Robert Shipley in an op-ed for the Daily Caller.
While the agencies originally tried to foist the ‘blueprint’ on campuses across the country, FIRE reported that “recent actions from OCR [DOE's Office of Civil Rights] further suggest that the worst features of the Montana settlement are not being required of public colleges, indicating that OCR no longer regards the controversial components of its May agreement as a blueprint for all colleges.”
Among these indicative actions was a letter sent to FIRE last week by Catherine Lhamon, head of OCR, saying “the agreement in the Montana case represents the resolution of that particular case and not OCR or DOJ policy.”
“Assistant Secretary Lhamon’s clear statement that the Montana agreement does not represent OCR or DOJ policy-meaning it’s not much of a ‘blueprint’-should come as a great relief to those who care about free speech and due process on our nation’s campuses,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff.