Hundreds of American colleges have “bias-response teams” or similar mechanism for students or faculty to report bias incidents. These systems enforce political correctness and turn campuses into miniature surveillance states.
Through the Freedom of Information Act, I recently obtained and reviewed nearly 300 alleged bias incidents at 11 major public universities. The reports, which we asked to be scrubbed of identifying information for both the accusers and accused, reveal students who are perpetually offended and on the lookout for ideological heresy. Actual crimes such as vandalism or threats of physical violence are typically handled by campus police. In most bias reports, campus community members simply heard or saw something that made them mildly uncomfortable.
At the University of Utah, a male student was joking around with his friends in the library and complained that his computer battery was dying. His friend gave him a power cord, and, when it turned out to be incompatible with his computer, told the student to jam the cord into the power socket anyway. “That’s rape,” the accused student whispered loudly. “I’m not raping my computer.” A female student overheard and filed a complaint.
Supporters of bias-response teams argue they are harmless, since they typically cannot formally discipline anyone. “They do not shut down free speech or charge into classrooms to stop offensive statements from faculty members or students,” two professors, two administrators and a doctoral candidate argued in a June article for Inside Higher Education.
Yet schools often investigate the complaints, and the teams themselves can call the accused in to demand an explanation in front an administrator or a panel of “diversity” specialists. At the University of Illinois, law-enforcement officers sit on the bias-response board—making the body a literal speech police. Complaints go down in permanent, often public, records, which can effect future employment prospects. Most bias-response systems don’t offer any process by which the accused can clear their names.
The reporting is often ideologically biased. A Michigan State University student reported his dorm roommate for watching a video of conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. When a University of Oregon professor defended Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, a female student reported she was “deeply offended” by the “false, ignorant, biased commentary” that “completely discredited sexual assault survivors like myself and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, among countless other women.”
A Portland State student filed a complaint against a woman who jokingly described herself as sometimes being “schizophrenic.” An Asian-American student at the University of Minnesota reported a food-service worker for saying hello in Japanese. At Indiana University a teaching assistant filed a case against a guest lecturer who tried to explain the role of the Federal Communications Commission by citing the Janet Jackson “Nipplegate” controversy at the 2004 Super Bowl. A 22-year-old female student at Utah reported a professor for assigning too many classic works on economics written by men. She claimed the selections created a “hostile learning environment.”
People can be reported for simply giving the impression that they are not sufficiently progressive. A self-identified “trans feminine” student at Indiana reported a faculty member for giving a “rude look” to the student, who wore lipstick to class, and for saying something to someone else in the classroom that the student couldn’t hear but suspected was about the student’s failure to look “totally masculine.”
“Students and faculty are afraid to have honest conversations—or even joke around with each other—out of fear of being reported for a faux pas,” Portland State professor Peter Boghossian told me earlier this year. The result is a culture of mistrust and bad faith, in which everyone is a suspect. Now that’s a hostile learning environment.
Mr. Schneider is a senior reporter for The College Fix and author of “1916: The Blog.”
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Appeared in the August 6, 2019, print edition.