University Of New Mexico Violates Own Sexual Harassment Policy With School Event, Learns Nothing From The Experience

October 7, 2014

ByTim Cushing at TechDirt


The University of New Mexico’s school policies are so vague and censorious that the school itself has managed to violate them. Here’s the relevant part of its policies:

The University of New Mexico’s (UNM’s) Sexual Harassment Policy (PDF) states that “[e]xamples of sexual harassment which shall not be tolerated” include “suggestive” letters, notes, or invitations. The policy also prohibits “displaying sexually suggestive or derogatory objects, pictures, cartoons, or posters,” albeit with the vague disclaimer that such displays will be “evaluated for appropriateness such as art displayed in museums … .”

As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) noted on October 1st, not only did the policy mute protected speech (“sexually suggestive” expression being one of those), but that the school itself violated this policy with events held by the university’s Women’s Resource Center.

UNM is no stranger to sexually suggestive expression. According to The College Fix, this week, September 29–Oct 2 is “Sex Week” at UNM—a weeklong series of programs for students including “Negotiating Successful Threesomes,” “O-Face Oral” and “BJs and Beyond.” Sex Week is sponsored in part by the university’s Women’s Resource Center. Sex Week also violates the university’s own speech codes, since even the titles of the workshops—and thus any Sex Week promotional materials—are “sexually suggestive.”

These events were protested by offended students but the school defended its actions, claiming that the school was “dependent on the unfettered flow of ideas,” some of which would undoubtedly cause discomfort in its attendees. But its declaration in favor of strong speech protections is undermined by its overly-broad sexual harassment policy.

By bringing this dissonance to the school’s attention, FIRE hoped to push UNM into revising its harassment policy. After all, its own ordained Sex Week events were filled with “sexually suggestive or derogatory objects, pictures, cartoons, or posters.” No such luck. The school apologized but LEARNED NOTHING.

UNM released a statement on Wednesday apologizing for “the inclusion of topics that are sensational and controversial.” Vice President for Student Affairs Eliseo Torres promises in the statement, “We will do a better job in the future of vetting and selecting programs offered through campus groups.” (Sex Week was hosted by the Women’s Resource Center and the Graduate and Professional Students Association.)

The sexual harassment policy still stands. Even worse, the school now seems to be headed in a more restrictive direction, speech-wise — something it definitely shouldn’t do as a publicuniversity. Not only is it now going to work harder at curbing its students rights, it’s going to do so in the pursuit of the unobtainable.

Well, if Torres’s goal is excluding all “controversial” topics from Sex Week (or, worse, from all of campus), we are here to inform him that that’s impossible. Sex and sex-related topics will always be controversial. And while some coverage of the matter emphasizes workshops on bondage and masochism, it’s absurdly naive to think that no one will object if Sex Week covers only “vanilla” sex-related topics. Perhaps Torres should have simply acknowledged that UNM doesn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable and declared that the university would give up on Sex Week altogether.

You cannot please every student and you certainly can’t even attempt to do so while still respecting their First Amendment rights. UNM is a public university and Constitutional rights take precedence over school policy. What should have happened — a realization that its policies are too restrictive — didn’t. Instead, the school is now drifting in a more censorious direction, thanks to having its own inability to follow its policies pointed out to it. The school administration needs to do what it’s trying to help its students do: grow up. The student body may be made up of unique individuals, but it is not composed of a few thousand centers-of-the-universe. The rest of the world doesn’t need to adjust itself to please the complainers. And it won’t, not once these students leave the artificial shelter provided by these policies borne of hand-wringing and apologies. Nothing about these policies do any favors for those they’re meant to “protect.”

Susan Kruth sums this ridiculousness up with the unofficial motto of FIRE:

[I]f you get all the way through your college career without being offended, you should ask for your money back.

Schools: University of New Mexico