On Sunday, the Grand Forks Herald published an editorial calling on the University of North Dakota to revise its speech-restrictive “harassment” policy, which earned the “honor” of being named our Speech Code of the Month for December 2012.
The policy’s overbreadth is striking, defining “harassment” (PDF) to include speech that causes a group or individual “unwelcome attention,” “humiliation,” “ridicule,” or even just “offense.” Under the specific terms of the policy, merely “ignoring an individual at work or study” may be harassment. Making matters worse, the policy also notes that harassment may include “unacceptable behavior affecting the dignity of an individual that appears or feels offensive, demeaning, intimidating or hostile.” Of course, the vast majority of such speech is protected by the First Amendment. Moreover, UND’s policy contains no objectivity requirement, meaning that the most unreasonably oversensitive students or faculty members on campus essentially wield a veto over speech.
The Herald‘s editorial explains the problems with UND’s policy and argues that being named Speech Code of the Month is a “distinction that should make lovers of academic freedom burn with shame.” We fully agree—and we hope that UND heeds the Herald‘s call for reform.