The University of Iowa has scrapped plans to create a Bias Assessment and Response Team after determining that such bodies often become what one administrator called “scolding bodies” that can create as many problems as they are intended to solve.
Iowa’s Chief Diversity Officer, Georgina Dodge, specifically cited the uproar over the University of Northern Colorado’s bias response team, which has been criticized for policing language and violating academic freedom. Details of the UNC bias team’s overreach was first reported by Heat Street in June.
Dodge told the Iowa City Press-Citizen that nationwide, many bias response teams resembled “scolding panels.”
“Frankly, the [word] BART has become a bit tainted because of the actions that these people have taken,” she said. “One of the things that we’ve seen at many schools is that the BARTs have become almost punitive in nature. When we are dealing with incidents that do not rise to the level of a policy violation, how you are going to penalize someone is a big question?”
Dylan Larino, a student at the University of Iowa, says there’s been an ongoing problem with political correctness and attacks on free speech at the university in recent years.
“UI was known as the ‘Berkeley of Midwest,’ so it leans left,” he says. “That’s a given. … We’ve had issues where the president has gone with appeasement whenever there’s a complaint on campus.”
Last year, the University of Iowa was listed as one of the top 10 “worst abusers of student and faculty free speech rights” by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
Ari Cohn, a free speech lawyer at FIRE, says the university’s reconsideration of a bias response team was a step in the right direction, particularly “in light of the encroachments on freedom of expression and academic freedom that have occurred under similar programs at other institutions.”
“Conduct that rises to the level of actionable harassment under controlling law should be dealt with under the applicable policies that the University of Iowa, along with other universities, maintain,” Cohn said. “But if a university wants to enable students to report expression protected by the First Amendment, it should do so in a way that focuses on providing support for the affected student rather than chilling expression by hauling students in for questioning.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.