A reader who attends the University of Nebraska-Lincoln writes:
Your article “The ‘Live Not By Lies’ Quickening” came out in a timely manner because of an email I received from my university today. I’m a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), and I would guess this type of thing is par for the course for many universities in the United States now, so it probably shouldn’t surprise me, but the language of UNL’s statement troubles me. The short of it is this: UNL has a system they call “TIPS” for reporting “bias incidents.” Today, they announced that they have updated the system to take reports about the “culture” or “climate” of the campus including things that make people feel “unsafe,” even if those things do not violate University policy in any way.
It says, “Most recently, the university has added a campus climate/culture option within its TIPS incident reporting system to capture broader issues. The new climate/culture option is intended for incidents that may not violate the university’s Student Code of Conduct or Title IX compliance regulations, but run counter to the university’s core values and beliefs. Incidents that discriminate, stereotype, exclude or harass an individual based on identity may be grouped within the climate/culture incident reporting option.” Later it says, “Kelli King, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and leader of the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards [said] ‘We want everyone to know that the university takes these matters seriously and that it is extremely important to address incidents that do not align with the values of the institution’” (Source: https://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/gradstudies/11992/69805).
That seems like a very slippery slope. Students can now report other students for “incidents that discriminate, stereotype, exclude or harass an individual” or make someone “feel unsafe/uncomfortable due to an incident,” even if those incidents do not violate UNL’s own student code of conduct or federal law. But what does that mean? It is really unclear how UNL plans to address these incidents and what type of incidents require addressing. And, how does anyone know what does or does not “align with the values of the institution” if those values cannot be ascertained from what is stated in the UNL student code of conduct or other policy documents (since you can report actions that are not covered by UNL policy)? Additionally, these “bias incident” behaviors can even be unintentional according to the TIPS website itself: “A climate-based concern can include actions that discriminate, stereotype, exclude, or harasses anyone in our community based on their identity (such as race, color, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, age, or religion). Concerns may stem from fear, misunderstanding, hatred, or stereotypes. Behaviors may be intentional or unintentional. Climate concerns may not classify as a compliance violation but do counter our core values and beliefs” (Source: https://www.unl.edu/tips-incident-reporting-system/).
Once again in that definition, UNL mentions its “core values and beliefs”, which I think can be found here: https://diversity.unl.edu/our-core-values-beliefs. There is some hope here, as in these core beliefs UNL states that it wants to “protect free speech and inspire academic freedom.” It also says that UNL “believe[s] in the freedom of speech, and encourage[s] the civil and respectful expression of ideas and opinions.” That sounds good to me, but I hope those are not just empty words on paper because it makes me wonder how their very broad “bias incident” reporting policy can be consistent with such a free-speech statement when it encourages reporting even unintentional “incidents” that do not run afoul of any UNL policy and does not say what incidents UNL deems worthy to address or how. I don’t know how anyone can read that type of broad and unclear language and just expect the university administrators tasked with responding to these “incidents” to act with deference to the ideals of free speech. That leaves way too many doors open for abuse of such a policy by those who react to expressed disagreement similarly to the people your reader wrote about in “The ‘Live Not By Lies’ Quickening” article.
Anyway, just passing along more of this troubling trend which I know is unfortunately not unique to the University of Nebraska, but as you know is popping up everywhere, even at land-grant institutions in very red states like Nebraska.
This is one of those “shocking, but not surprising” things. It gives tremendous power to students who wish to use it to punish anyone they don’t like. Students who have faithfully followed the university’s own written policies could still get into trouble if someone believes that the words or actions of another on campus make them feel bad.
How can a university allow itself to decline into something like this? There is no way a university can be what a university is supposed to be if people within that community can silence others with a simple accusation based not on any contestable evidence, but only on the basis of subjective feeling.
Earlier today, in Nashville, I was talking with a US-based Christian who spends a lot of time in Europe working on a particular human rights issue. She listened to my Q&A with Gabe Lyons today, in which I talked about Live Not By Lies, and what the experiences of Christians under Soviet domination has to tell us about our own time and challenges to basic liberties. She said that she wanted to cheer as I made my points. Americans, she said, simply don’t understand how fragile our liberties are, and how ideology is destroying them. If you have any experience with the former Soviet world, as she does, it makes all the sense in the world.
So, ask yourself: would you want to attend, or have your children attend, a university like Nebraska, where you (or your children) could find yourself in a world of trouble when someone of an approved Victim Class accused you of making them feel unsafe — not because of anything particular you said, but just because? What kind of crackpot ideology turns a university in a free country into a woke madrassa?
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