Classrooms at Orange Coast College now feature signs warning students not to record instructors without their permission, The Los Angeles Times reported. The signs follow a controversy last semester when a student secretly recorded an instructor criticizing Donald Trump, then the president-elect. College policy at the time already barred recordings without consent. While Republican students at the college have said that the professor showed bias, her defenders have said that the video did not feature the full context of the remark, which the instructor's defenders said was answering a question from the class.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education on Tuesday released a nationwide survey of college and university bias response teams, saying they pose a growing threat to free speech on campus. The report identified 232 public and private institutions with bias response programs in 2016, saying that 42 percent list law enforcement personnel as team members -- what FIRE called “literal speech police.”
“Inviting students to report a broad range of speech to campus authorities casts a chilling pall over free speech rights,” Adam Steinbaugh, senior program officer at FIRE, said in a statement. “Bias response teams solicit reports of a wide range of constitutionally protected speech, including speech about politics and social issues. These sometimes anonymous bias reports can result in interventions by conflict-wary administrators who then provide ‘education,’ often in the form of a verbal reprimand, or even explicit punishment.”
Citing a controversial case at the University of Northern Colorado last year that resulted in the dismantling of a bias response team, Steinbaugh said that institutions “may rightly take action against a wide variety of conduct.” But in asking students to report incidents of “pure, protected speech simply because someone claims he or she found it offensive,” he said, “colleges are sending the destructive message that the way for students to handle speech they don’t like is not by challenging it in the marketplace of ideas, but by reporting it to authorities.”
Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education, challenged FIRE’s assessment somewhat, saying that bias response teams “play an important role in responding to behavioral incidents on campus around issues such as race, ethnicity, religion and gender identity.” Their design and intent is to make “a clear distinction between free speech and actual behavior that causes physical harm or speech that is harassment or threatening,” he added. “A well-developed bias response protocol provides a clear and consistent mechanism to respond to students most directly affected by the bias incident.”
Kruger said the distinction between protected speech and threatening or harmful behavior is “critical.” So even in cases in which reported speech or behavior is clearly protected, he said, teams can play an “important educational role in reinforcing the value of diverse and often controversial speech on a college campus.”
Today’s higher education leaders must be adept at navigating not only problems with clear, “conventional solutions,” but also “adaptive challenges” related to the “demographic, economic and cultural transitions taking place,” according to a new report from the American Council on Education. The paper, called “Looking Back and Looking Forward,” is a review of the ACE Fellows Program, which prepares faculty and staff members and administrators for senior leadership positions in a cohort-based mentorship model.
The report argues that professional development must prepare senior leaders not only to work effectively within their individual positions, but also through a “collective approach that benefits the individual, institutions and the enterprise.” Findings are based on a survey of those who have been involved in the program and interviews, with 98 percent of responding fellows saying they agree that the program prepared them from a senior leadership position. “One-on-one conversations with mentors” emerged as the most significant aspect of the placement experience that prepared fellows for senior leadership positions.
The report identifies one “central dilemma” as how leadership is defined and who leads. “Scholarship and conventional wisdom tell us that professionals up and down the line must have the leadership skills and expert knowledge necessary to flex to any challenge,” the report says. “Nevertheless, leadership development programs tend to be designed around the very real hierarchies that exist on college and university campuses.”