Press Releases | Freedom of Expression

Vague Sexual Harassment Guidelines Threaten Free Speech on Campus, Say National Nonprofits

June 17, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) are calling for college trustees and administrators to resist new, overbroad sexual harassment guidelines that jeopardize free speech on campus.

The guidelines, relayed in a letter to administrators at the University of Montana at Missoula by the Departments of Justice and Education, are described as “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country.”

“Trustees are responsible for ensuring that their institutions are places open to the free exchange of ideas and academic freedom,” said Anne D. Neal, ACTA president. “That’s why they should push back when bureaucrats—intentionally or not—undermine intellectual freedom.”

“With this unwise and unconstitutional policy, the federal government places colleges and universities in an impossible position: they must either violate the First Amendment or risk losing all of their federal funding,” said Greg Lukianoff, FIRE president. “This new attempt to rewrite the definition of sexual harassment condemns American campuses to years of confusion and expensive lawsuits, while students and faculty members are encouraged to self-censor or risk punishment.”

Debates and discussions about important issues such as sexual morality or gay marriage, or even a joke with sexual undertones, could be viewed as sexual harassment. If a student is offended after being asked on a date by a classmate, that could potentially fall into the vague guidelines of sexual harassment as well.

“These guidelines are so broad that they will discourage faculty and students from speaking up and engaging in the dialogue so crucial to a college education,” Neal said.

ACTA and FIRE have sent a letter to trustees and presidents nationwide, urging them to resist any hasty changes in policy. The letter also suggests calling upon legal counsel to outline the policies, procedures, and costs that would be necessary to implement the Montana standard and contacting legislators to raise concern.


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