University changes speech policies after Justice motion
The University of Michigan changed its speech policies Tuesday, one day after the Trump administration weighed in on a federal lawsuit alleging the school unfairly trampled on students’ First Amendment rights.
On Monday, the Department of Justice filed a statement of interest accusing the Ann Arbor school of imposing a “system of arbitrary censorship of, and punishment for, constitutionality protected speech.”
The Justice Department’s motion was in support of a May lawsuit against the school by Speech First, a free speech advocacy group. Speech First alleged the University Michigan’s Bias Response Team, which responds to reports of any speech a listener finds “bothersome” or “hurtful.”
Since April 2017, the Bias Response Team has investigated more than 150 incidents and removed flyers, posters and even erased whiteboards, according to the lawsuit.
The school has since updated its speech policies by adopting more concrete definitions of “bullying” and “harassing.” The University of Michigan said it will now use more formal definitions found in Michigan state law.
“The revised definitions more precisely and accurately reflect the commitment to freedom of expression that has always been expressed in the statement itself,” said E. Royster Harper, Vice President of Student Life, in a statement released by the school.
Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement that the agency will continue to pursue free speech cases.
“Our nation’s public universities and colleges were established to promote diversity of thought and robust debate, so we must not accept when they instead use their authority to stifle these principles on their campuses,” he said.