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Goldwater Institute & Speech First Aim to Dismantle Campus Thought Police

July 19, 2022

American college campuses should not resemble a surveillance state. Yet at universities across the country, leftwing activists and administrators have decided to borrow the idea that political dissent is best handled via relentless monitoring, reporting, and if necessary, discipline. These tactics, now put into practice via campus “bias reporting systems,” place students under the constant threat of being reported to campus authorities by a peer for any offhand comment deemed sufficiently politically incorrect or intolerant.

This is not the way our universities should function, and the Goldwater Institute is proud to announce the release of new model legislation to defend students and staff from this latest front of progressive cancel culture. Developed in partnership with Speech First, the new “Protecting Students from Bias Reporting Systems” model policy will put a stop to this corrosive new practice by prohibiting public universities and community colleges from operating any such system that works to chill student speech.

Under the model legislation, which state lawmakers across the country will now have the chance to enact:

A public university or community college of this state shall not establish nor use public resources to support any office, position, or system whose function is to:

A) Investigate, threaten disciplinary action, or otherwise punish enrolled students for expressions of speech protected by state or federal law, including but not limited to speech pertaining to disagreements of opinion; political beliefs or affiliations; or perceived bias, prejudice, stereotypes, or intolerance.

The policy likewise ensures that campus bureaucrats do not establish any system designed to solicit the reporting of such incidents by peers.

This new policy complements the protections established under the Goldwater Institute’s existing Campus Free Speech Act, which itself has already been adopted in states across the country, from Arizona to Wisconsin to North Carolina.

Like the Campus Free Speech Act, the new “Protecting Students from Bias Reporting Systems” model policy preserves universities’ ability to address incidents of speech associated with illegal activity, while ensuring that students’ constitutionally protected 1st Amendment rights are not smothered by university speech codes.

A 2022 Speech First report found that nearly half (46%) of all private universities, and two-thirds (66%) of public universities operate a bias reporting system, and a new report issued via the American Enterprise Institute’s Conservative Education Reform Network (CERN) chronicles the toxic impact these systems have on a university atmosphere. It is no surprise that Speech First has already prevailed on behalf of students when challenging these systems in federal court, but now state lawmakers will have a direct tool to shut down these systems immediately.

Our universities exist to promote the free exchange of ideas, not to suppress or screen out students or faculty who fail to adopt leftwing orthodoxy. It is for this reason that the Institute is committed to defending students and instructors’ ability to speak authentically without fear of reprisal. It is for this same reason that the Institute is proud to have also partnered with Stanley Kurtz and the James G. Martin Center to draft the End Political Litmus Tests in Education Act. This measure, which stops public educational institutions from screening out applicants who fail to profess allegiance to the tenets of race-essentialist “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) initiatives, ensures that students and staff are not punished for failing to say what university bureaucrats want to hear. The Protecting Students from Bias Reporting Systems model policy, on the other hand, will ensure that students and staff are not punished for saying what those same bureaucrats simply do not want to hear.

Whether implemented by state legislatures or university boards of regents as the case may be, all three of these model policies—Campus Free Speech, Prohibiting Bias Reporting Systems, and Ending Political Litmus Tests—require universities to uphold constitutional principles and help foster intellectual diversity on campus. When it comes to our institutions of higher education, America should not look for inspiration to the failed experiments of totalitarian regimes bent on tracking and controlling the private opinions of its subjects, but instead draw unapologetically from our nation’s founding freedoms.

Matt Beienburg is the Director of the Van Sittert Center for Constitutional Advocacy and Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute.



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