Phoenix—Last week, the University of Arizona announced the creation of student “social justice advocate” jobs on campus. According to the position description, the job responsibilities include reporting “bias incidents or claims to appropriate Residence Life staff.” Since the announcement of the new position, there has been a sizable public outcry, and this incident and response highlight the need for a campus free speech policy that does not draw distinctions based on viewpoint and provides robust due process protections for students who are accused of violating campus speech policies.
Yesterday, the Goldwater Institute sent a public records request for all documents related to the new positions, including how the positions are funded and what guidelines are in place for policing speech.
“Bias response teams like those proposed by the University of Arizona create a culture of suspicion and cause frivolous investigations, not to mention interference with free speech on campus,” said Jonathan Butcher, education policy director at the Goldwater Institute. Bias response teams allow students to file a report when they feel they have observed bias in political or social issues. Some schools around the country allow such reporting to be done anonymously, with school officials investigating the accused and issuing warnings or reprimands.
Earlier this year, the Goldwater Institute released a model bill that nullifies existing campus speech codes—like the one University of Arizona social justice advocates will enforce—that elevate “confronting diversely insensitive behavior” ahead of protecting free expression. The model bill also requires that anyone who is part of the campus community to be allowed to speak on any issue, so long as they do not violate the ability of others to do the same. Already more than half a dozen state legislatures have taken up the model bill, and the Goldwater Institute has begun work to enact the model legislation in Arizona next session.
“Encouraging diverse viewpoints is at the core of our model bill—paying students to report bias incidents does just the opposite by chilling free expression that might cross the imaginary line between heated debate and micro-aggression,” explained Jim Manley, senior attorney at the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation. “The concept of ‘social justice advocates’ would stifle free expression in the name of protecting hurt feelings.”