An article in The American Thinker mentions FIRE’s victory at the University of Delaware, where an egregious thought reform program was shut down after FIRE’s publicity campaign. The article highlights “Think Respect,” a “bias reporting mechanism” at the University of Wisconsin whereby students were encouraged to “report anything” that could possibly be construed as bias-related. A bias incident was defined to include “verbal, written or physical” acts directed against a student because of “actual or perceived characteristic(s)” such as political affiliation and religion. The program was condemned by eminent University of Wisconsin Law Professor Ann Althouse, who noted that such a program would discourage everything but “bland pleasantries.” Distinguished University of Wisconsin Professor Donald Downs added that the program amounted to a speech code “as it encourages people to file reports on other people’s attitudes and speech that informants deem insufficiently sensitive.”
The article notes that while the University of Delaware program was dismantled only after intense public pressure, the University of Wisconsin program withered from disuse. It took the bang of a FIRE press release to take down the University of Delaware program, but the University of Wisconsin program went out with a whimper. Most students simply didn’t want to report other students just because they said something offensive. Students chafed under the aura of paternalism inherent in the program. This is to the good; they are adults, after all.
FIRE is investigating many more such bias reporting systems at colleges and universities across the country. At William and Mary, for instance, the system originally provided for anonymous reporting: “A person reporting online may report anonymously by leaving the personal information fields blank.” While FIRE conferred with students who were protesting against William and Mary’s system, the school changed its reporting policy, and now, “Anonymous reports will not be accepted.” But several other schools retain an anonymous reporting mechanism, jeopardizing the rights of the accused. We will be reporting on some of these schools soon.