Orwellian. It’s a word that aptly describes the University of Arizona’s campus reporting apparatus, which encourages students to snitch on their peers to university authorities for politically incorrect or “biased” speech. But when a reporter filed a public records request seeking copies of the complaints generated under this bias response system (BRS)—with personal identifying information redacted—the school refused to release them.
That’s why the Goldwater Institute sent a letter to the university Wednesday demanding it comply with Arizona law and release the records.
College campuses should be places of free and open exchange, where students can respectfully discuss opposing viewpoints and think critically about the major issues of the day. But instead, progressives are using bias response teams to implement their own, illiberal agenda across the country. They’re breeding an army of young people intolerant of free expression, who inform on one another at the slightest deviation from the script of political correctness. In fact, a recent study of 824 public and private universities found that 56% (457 schools) had some form of BRS. In essence, leftists are fostering a culture of fear over free speech, with 83% of college students saying they engaged in self-censorship, according to another recent survey. Put simply, there can be no safe spaces at all for students to speak if their peers can report on them at any given moment.
Last August, Christian Schneider, a senior reporter with The College Fix, submitted a public records request to University of Arizona to shed light on the anonymous complaints generated by the university’s Public Incident Report website. The university had also previously provided responsive records after he made a near-identical request in 2019. But this time around, the school denied his request, claiming it was withholding the reports “to protect the privacy of persons and best interests of the state,” even though Schneider asked for the names of the complainants and the targets of the reports to be redacted.
The College Fix regularly investigates bias response teams around the country to shine a light on what sorts of incidents are being reported and whether bias response systems are infringing on free speech rights. In one instance that Schneider reported on, a Michigan State student filed a complaint after witnessing his roommate watch a Ben Shapiro video on his laptop, which prompted an administrator to allow for a room change. In another, a Portland State University student was reported for making an off-hand comment about sometimes feeling like she’s “schizophrenic.” Trivial complaints such as these only serve to chill speech and foment distrust among the campus community.
So what is the University of Arizona hiding? Is it afraid that revealing the “bias” incidents reported to administrators—public information that it has a legal obligation to release—will expose the Orwellian nature of this system? Arizonans have a right to know about the educational climate in our public universities, especially how administrators handle complaints about controversial topics. And that’s exactly the information Goldwater intends to uncover.
For years, Goldwater has been a nationwide leader in restoring free speech on campus. We’re successfully standing up for the constitutional rights of students being silenced, and we’ve crafted legislation to address the free speech crisis on public colleges and universities. Our reform, which we have already enacted in five states, creates an official university policy affirming the importance of free expression, including provisions that form a system of interlocking incentives designed to encourage students and administrators to respect and protect the free expression of others. This reform is working exactly like it’s supposed to in places like the University of Wisconsin system, where outrage mobs tried and failed to cancel conservative speakers on multiple occasions.
And we’re building on this work to dismantle the campus thought police with a complementary new model policy, developed in partnership with Speech First, that puts a stop to the corrosive new practice of bias response teams by prohibiting public universities and community colleges from operating any such system that works to chill student speech. In tandem with the Campus Free Speech Act, the new “Protecting Students from Bias Reporting Systems” policy requires universities to uphold constitutional principles and help foster intellectual diversity on campus.
All around the nation, Goldwater is working to ensure that American colleges resemble safe havens for free and open exchange rather than a surveillance state.
Kamron Kompani is the Legal Programs Manager at the Goldwater Institute.
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