Questionable Bias Reporting Policy at North Dakota State

June 5, 2009

Blogger (and Campus Freedom Network member) Nathan Hansen has written about Cal Poly’s suspension of its CARE-Net program and alerts readers to what may be an equally ominous “bias incident” reporting system in place at North Dakota State University (NDSU), where he is a student.

In our press release on Monday we noted the growing trend of universities implementing bias reporting programs aimed at curbing “politically incorrect” or “insensitive” speech, seemingly without regard for the grave threat they pose to First Amendment freedoms. In addition to Cal Poly, the Morris and Crookston campuses of the University of Minnesota, as well as the University of Missouri, among many others, have such systems in place. Often, complainants can even report on others’ “biased speech” anonymously, making the system a great tool for those who wish to cause trouble for others through baseless complaints. And the trouble caused can be severeat the University of Virginia, reporting a bias incident automatically triggers a police investigation, whether or not one is warranted. A similar such policy proposed at University of Nevada, Las Vegas was so controversial that the bias-incident part of the policy was scrapped entirely.

Is North Dakota State going down that road as well? Hansen points readers to NDSU’s bias reporting system and to the most recent available set of bias incident reports, featured prominently on the website of NDSU’s Office for Equity, Diversity & Global Outreach. The summary report, from the 2007-2008 academic year, notes 31 reported bias incidents, 26 of which the office investigated. Nearly half of the reported incidents stemmed from “Verbal Comment/Intimidation,” many or most of whichthough FIRE can’t be surevery well may have involved speech protected by the Constitution. Also cited are “Poster/Flyer”related incidents and, bafflingly, one incident where the subject was allegedly “Excluded/Ignored.” “This last category would be hilarious if it wasn’t so serious,” Hansen writes. “Exclusion is now an act[ion]able offense at NDSU. If you don’t hang out with that international student you can be reported for bias and probably reprimanded or punished now. Hilariously disturbing.”

Does NDSU have another Cal Poly CARE-Net on its hands? FIRE will be taking a closer look at the program. Thanks to Hansen for his attention to the rights of students at NDSU.