Samantha Harris in ‘Inside Higher Ed’: Federal ‘Blueprint’ Imposes Huge Administrative Burden

June 13, 2013

In an op-ed published today on Inside Higher Ed, FIRE Director of Speech Code Research Samantha Harris outlines the tremendous administrative burden resulting from the University of Montana’s (UMT’s) agreement with the Departments of Justice and Education following an investigation into the school’s compliance with Title IX. The agreement, much of which focuses on enforcing a new sexual harassment policy that sweeps within its ambit protected speech, identifies more than 40 actions UMT must take in order to become Title IX compliant. If the university fails to take these actions, it risks losing federal funding. Some of these actions include:  Developing and carrying out a system for tracking and reviewing reports of sex-based harassment (which, under the government’s definitions, includes any subjectively offensive sexual or gender-related speech). Ensuring that all university offices (except where confidentiality privileges apply) notify the university’s Title IX coordinator within 24 hours of receiving information about sex-based harassment, regardless of whether a formal complaint was filed. Ensuring that the educational environment of any student reporting sex-based harassment is free of further harassment (i.e., further subjectively offensive speech). Conducting annual campus climate surveys for all students, analyzing the results of those surveys within 60 calendar days, and working with a paid equity consultant to develop actions to take in response to the survey results. Developing a monitoring program to assess the effectiveness of the university’s efforts to address sex-based harassment, conducting an annual assessment of those efforts, and submitting that assessment to the federal government. These actions, which the agreement says should "serve as a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country," might lead some to wonder, what are colleges and universities for? As Samantha writes in her piece:The administrative burden of following this blueprint is so great that it seems as if the federal government has forgotten that universities exist for a purpose other than sheltering 18-to-21-year-olds from offensive speech. Samantha’s piece is the first discussion yet published fully analyzing the actions required of college administrators as a result of this new federal "blueprint." To read her whole article, please visit Inside Higher Ed. Want to know more about the ED/DOJ "blueprint"?  Check out FIRE’s Frequently Asked Questions here!

Cases:  Departments of Education and Justice: National “Blueprint” for Unconstitutional Speech Codes