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How the 'Blueprint' Exacerbates the Already Problematic Abuse of 'Harassment' on Campus

Yesterday, I took to the pages of The Huffington Post to write about yet another worrying aspect of the Departments of Justice and Education's "blueprint" for campus speech codes. Specifically, I discussed how the federal government's new, broad definition of sexual harassment as "any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature" makes worse an already bad situation on college and university campuses: the routine abuse of codes prohibiting "harassment" to censor and punish a wide range of constitutionally protected speech. Given schools' frequent misunderstanding of harassment law, one shudders to think what will happen under the new directive from DOJ and ED. The Huffington Post article points to a long line of harassment cases that FIRE has witnessed and intervened in over the years.

These include:

  • In 2010, Syracuse University charged a law student with harassment and subjected him to a prolonged investigation for his alleged involvement in an anonymous, satirical blog about life in law school (a fake-news site that emulated the style of The Onion).
  • In 2011, the University of Denver found a tenured professor guilty of sexual harassment for teaching on sexual topics in a graduate-level course on "The Domestic and International Consequences of the Drug War." One of the course's themes was "Drugs and Sin in American Life: From Masturbation and Prostitution to Alcohol and Drugs," focusing in part on the negative effects of "purity crusades."[...]

To demonstrate just how far back the problem goes, the University of Michigan in the late 1980s enacted and enforced a discriminatory harassment policy that chilled and restricted a substantial amount of academic speech. This included a dental student's concerns about the difficulty of a preclinical class for minority students and a psychology graduate student's views relating to differences in mental abilities between the sexes and races. The latter student eventually challenged this speech code in federal court, leading to the first of many court decisions over the following two decades striking down unconstitutional harassment policies. To read more of the article, including what we can expect to see now that the federal government has demonstrated an even worse understanding of campus harassment, please head on over to The Huffington Post.Want to know more about the ED/DOJ "blueprint"?  Check out FIRE's Frequently Asked Questions here!

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