Cal Poly Suspends Reporting on ‘Politically Incorrect’ Faculty and Students

June 2, 2009

FIRE’s June 1 press release announced a victory for individual rights at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), which has suspended an unconstitutional program targeting professors and students whose speech is "biased" or not "politically correct." The program even planned to let individuals report complaints anonymously, meaning that those deemed "politically incorrect" might never have known whom they had offended or why. Cal Poly, which has already once been on the losing side of a free speech lawsuit, has promised that any future CARE-Net program (short for Community Advocating REspect) "will not function to suppress controversial, offensive, or any other kind of protected speech."

As Greg stated, "This program jeopardized students’ and faculty members’ human, legal, and academic rights as members of a public university. Cal Poly should be commended for seeing what terrible consequences such inquisitions could have on its campus. We will be watching to make sure this program does not resurface in some other form."

CARE-Net was launched in May for the purpose of "protecting students from biased teachers" and other "biased incidents," according to a May 3 article in the Mustang Daily, the school’s student newspaper. The program defined a "bias related incident" as "any speech, act, or harassing incident or action taken by a person or group that is perceived to be malicious or discriminatory toward another person or group based on bias or prejudice relating to [various human characteristics]."

The program also featured a dozen student, faculty, and staff "advocates" who would respond to reports of faculty bias. A frighteningly honest comment to the Mustang Daily by one student advocate revealed that one of CARE-Net’s targets is the "teacher who isn’t politically correct or is hurtful in their actions or words."

After Cal Poly faculty members asked us for help, Greg wrote Cal Poly President Warren J. Baker on May 6, explaining that targeting "biased" speech for investigation is an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of speech and academic freedom. FIRE’s letter noted that encouraging people to report on one another’s "biased" or "politically incorrect" speech poses a serious threat to the very qualities that make a university a "marketplace of ideas" and chills expression of controversial ideas across the campus.

Cal Poly’s Vice Provost for Academic Programs and Undergraduate Education, W. David Conn, responded for Cal Poly on May 15. Conn announced that the program has been "suspended." He also stated that the program, if it is reinstated at all, will not suppress any kind of protected speech, and that it will comply with the law, the Constitution, and campus policies and agreements that promise the protection of rights on campus. No such program is expected to be in force until "next fl at the earliest."

As Will stated, "It is hard to imagine how a program like CARE-Net could exist at all without betraying fundamental liberties on campus."

Unfortunately, it seems that creepy college programs for "bias incident reporting" are becoming a nationwide trend. Indeed, Cal Poly is only the latest school to be caught trying to subject those who exhibit "bias" to official investigations. Under pressure from FIRE and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) recently withdrew a proposed "Policy on Bias Incidents and Hate Crimes" that would have triggered notification of the police in all cases of reports of biased speech. Not crimes, mind, youjust speech. The final version of the policy removed "bias incidents" entirely from investigation.

Bias reporting is the latest attempt by speech and thought control advocates on campus to suppress speech. For instance, the University of MinnesotaMorris and the University of MinnesotaCrookston both say they will investigate "protected speech" that nevertheless "violates the University of Minnesota’s commitment to civility and diversity," including any "expressions of disrespectful bias" based on personal characteristics. The University of Missouri encourages anonymous reporting of "verbal assault" by others in the form of "stereotypes," "regardless of the severity." And the University of Virginia permits anonymous reports of "bias" that automatically trigger police investigations. How much money is being wasted on administrators or police who are investigating "incidents" that are not even crimes and that would be unlawful to prevent in any case?

I agree with Will: "Such illiberal policies are not only unconstitutional, but they chill expression and impoverish campus discourse." These universities might be hearing from FIRE soon.

If you want to contact the presidents or chancellors of these schools, here is some handy contact information:

Warren J. Baker, President, Cal Poly: 805-756-6000;
David B. Ashley, President, UNLV: 702-895-3201;
Jacqueline Johnson, Chancellor, University of Minnesota-Morris: 320-589-6020;
Charles H. Casey, Chancellor, University of Minnesota-Crookston: 218-281-8343;
Brady J. Deaton, Chancellor, University of Missouri: 573-882-3387;
John T. Casteen III, President, University of Virginia: 434-924-3337;

Schools:  California Polytechnic State University

Cases:  California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly): Bias Reporting System Targets “Politically Incorrect” Professors