WASHINGTON, DC—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni today called upon the president of the College of William and Mary to abolish the College’s “Bias Reporting” system and reaffirm its commitment to the First Amendment.
“The essence of collegiate experience should be the free exchange of ideas,” wrote ACTA president Anne D. Neal in a letter addressed to President Gene Nichol. “However, the College of William and Mary’s decision to impose a ‘bias reporting’ system—coupled with the College’s recent history of yielding to censorious special interest groups—raises troubling questions about the College’s willingness to protect the rights of students, professors and others to explore and express various points of view.”
The College recently implemented a “Bias Reporting Website” where members of the campus community can report “bias incidents.” The College defines a “bias incident” as “harassment, intimidation or other hostile behavior that is directed at a member of the William and Mary community because of that person’s race, sex (including pregnancy), age, color, disability, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status. A bias incident may be verbal (whether spoken or written) or physical.”
Students and employees are urged to make reports in person or by phone, fax, or online form; the Web site expressly encourages people to make reports even if they “are not certain whether an occurrence meets the…definition.” The College Bias Reporting Team will evaluate all reports to determine which warrant further action. The Team’s stated goals include “confronting behavior that undermines community in a timely and sensitive manner,” and “to use whatever happens as a teachable moment.”
“This is just one in a series of troubling steps taken by the college to suppress free speech and free inquiry in the name of ‘community,’ Neal said. “These efforts must stop. And the place to begin is by doing away with the Bias Reporting program.”
In 2003, the administration prevented a group of students from protesting affirmative action. Earlier this year, the Wren Cross was nearly removed because some found it offensive. This fall, the College banned the use of Native American symbols in the Homecoming Parade—a patent violation of students’ First Amendment rights. By contrast, University of Illinois Chancellor Richard Herman overturned a similar ban at Urbana-Champaign, drawing a clear distinction between students’ expressive rights and the University’s decision to drop its Native American mascot in compliance with NCAA requirements.
“While the ideal of community is a worthy one, it should not be pursued at the expense of free exchange—and free exchange, when it is truly free, does mean that sometimes, some people are going to be offended by what other people say, do, and believe,” Neal said.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a national educational non-profit dedicated to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability. Its network includes alumni and trustees from more than 600 colleges and universities across the country, including William and Mary. ACTA has issued numerous reports on higher education, including The Vanishing Shakespeare, How Many Ward Churchills?, Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, The Hollow Core, and Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century.