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Protecting speech on college campus

March 15, 2011

Should the University of Georgia be a campus where anyone - no matter how thin-skinned - can invoke disciplinary mechanisms for speech they find offensive?

UGA's current anti-harassment provisions lack the precision the U.S. Supreme Court requires for the regulation of speech, "our most precious" freedom.

UGA's policies are as flawed as the infamous University of Wisconsin and University of Michigan policies federal courts found to be unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.

President Michael Adams' recent announcement that UGA's restrictive Non-Discrimination and Harassment Policy (NDAH) is being reviewed is a positive development.

But last month's revelation that student affairs officials want to add "bullying" to the anti-harassment section of the conduct code will further muddy an already-unclear provision.

UGA's current policies are rife with ambiguous terms such as "verbal abuse" and "harassment," terms courts have found "can mean anything." Vague laws create a chilling effect by failing to provide people with a clear sense of the line between legal and illegal activity. Vague laws are also susceptible to arbitrary enforcement. As the judge in the Michigan case found, the university was "essentially making up the rules as it went along...

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