FIRE in New Jersey’s ‘Star-Ledger’: Federal Bullying Law Not the Answer to Rutgers Basketball Scandal

By on April 9, 2013

Joe Cohn

FIRE Legislative & Policy Director Joe Cohn takes to the pages of Newark‘s The Star-Ledger this morning to rebut calls from New Jersey elected officials to pass new federal anti-bullying legislation in the wake of the Rutgers basketball scandal. Pointing out that former basketball coach Mike Rice’s behavior was already prohibited by Rutgers policy and existing laws, Joe argues that broad federal anti-bullying legislation would only serve to threaten protected speech on campus. 

Joe writes:  

People nationwide are understandably shocked by Rice’s behavior, and criticism of Rutgers’ handling of the situation rightfully continues. However, the controversy has also led to renewed calls from Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. Rush Holt (D-12th Dist.) for federal legislation addressing "bullying" — such as the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, recently reintroduced in Congress.

[...]

[T]his kind of misconduct is already prohibited by law. We don’t need new legislation to prevent coaches from hitting players. Could anyone watching the video of Rice berating and shoving his players possibly have doubted that Rutgers had the authority to fire him? Rice’s conduct violated both Rutgers’ policy against workplace violence and clauses in his contract. 

Criminal statutes outlaw physical assault, and federal anti-discrimination laws such as Title VII and Title IX prohibit discriminatory harassment. And the misconduct Tyler Clementi suffered was already illegal, as well. Contrary to Lautenberg and Holt’s claims, public universities, including Rutgers, are already legally required to maintain anti-harassment policies. 

In addition, Holt and Lautenberg’s legislation would infringe on student First Amendment rights. That’s because the legislation’s definition of harassment is vague, subjective and incompatible with Supreme Court precedent.

Be sure to read Joe’s column in full!