Press Releases | Bias Response Teams

William and Mary Administration Fails to Dismantle Snitching System

ACTA asks: Isn't the First Amendment good enough?
November 20, 2007

WASHINGTON, DC—The administration of the College of William and Mary has ignored calls from concerned alumni and others, including the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, to eliminate its controversial “Bias Incident Reporting System.” The system’s website, recently revised, still encourages members of the William and Mary community to report “biased behavior” to a special committee.

“The administration can tinker with the system all it wants. The fact is, it needs to go,” said Anne D. Neal, president of ACTA. “The system is ripe for abuse, and the administration has offered no reason for why it’s needed. What’s wrong with free speech?”

The original system was designed for any member of the William and Mary community to file complaints over “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.”

Students, alumni, and others expressed immediate reservations. Most notably, William and Mary law professor—and noted First Amendment expert—William Van Alstyne delivered a harsh and public criticism of the original system.

As a public college, William and Mary must obey the First Amendment. On November 1, at the request of alumni, ACTA wrote to President Nichol urging him to do just that—by ending the Bias Incident Reporting System altogether. He has not answered the letter.

Discontent from students and alumni over the administration’s actions over the past year continues to mount. For instance, the latest edition of the student newspaper notes “inexcusable” conduct on the part of the college president, Gene Nichol, in dealing with an alumnus who retracted a $12 million pledge earlier this year, after the administration received national attention for removing a small brass cross from the school’s chapel.

“Whether it’s student free speech or the Wren cross, there’s been a pattern in the administration’s actions: Impose an unpopular change suddenly, don’ explain it, and expect alumni to send their money in anyway,” Neal noted. “The administration should quit regulating and focus on educating.”

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, national organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic quality, and accountability. Its network includes alumni and trustees from more than 600 colleges and universities across the country. 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.


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