University of the Pacific, November 2008’s SCOTM, To Review Harassment Policy

By December 5, 2008

Just a month after being named FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month for November 2008, the University of the Pacific has agreed to review its Harassment, Coercion, and Discrimination policy.

After naming Pacific our Speech Code of the Month, FIRE wrote President Don DeRosa to personally inform him of our concerns about the policy. We wrote:

The university’s policy on Harassment, Coercion, and Discrimination threatens core political speech, explicitly bans protected speech, and leaves Pacific students’ right to free expression at the mercy of the most sensitive or least tolerant members of their community. The mere existence of the policy chills expression on Pacific’s campus and ignores First Amendment liberties that Pacific, as a private, secular university in California, is legally bound by the state’s "Leonard Law" to protect. Besides clearly violating the Leonard Law, Pacific’s policy undermines the mission of an institution presumptively committed to intellectual rigor, robust debate, and a free and vibrant community.

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Pacific’s policy relies on impermissibly vague termsnamely, "emotional integrity" and "ethical integrity"that could, in application, mean virtually anything. Thus, no student seeking to ascertain precisely what conduct is and is not forbidden could possibly determine what is actually prohibited. Moreover, even assuming that a student was in fact able to figure out what these terms mean, the fact that a student may be punished for undermining the emotional or ethical integrity of "any community member" means that the most irrational, oversensitive person on campus effectively enjoys the sole power to determine the parameters of acceptable speech. Such a policy is both outrageous and untenable.

In response, we received a letter from Elizabeth Griego, Vice President for Student Life. After thanking FIRE for writing, Griego writes:

Your letter comes at that time of the year when we are reviewing student policies for any needed updating or revision for the next academic year. As the University officer responsible for overseeing the student code of conduct and associated policies, I will include in our forthcoming assessment a review of the various comments you offer.

FIRE appreciates Vice President Griego’s agreement to review the policy. We trust that upon further examination, she will make the necessary corrections in order to bring Pacific into compliance with California’s Leonard Lawand,  accordingly, the First Amendment. Of course, we’ll keep you posted.

Schools: University of the Pacific