Challenging the ‘Bias Response Teams’ at the University of Michigan


In the potpourri of college censorship that poisons free speech on campus, some ingredients have innocuous titles: Free Speech Zones, Safe Spaces, and Bias Response Teams. None of these elements are what they purport to be, nor do they promote free expression.

Free Speech Zones limit where and when students can demonstrate or distribute literature. Safe Spaces are elaborate efforts to prevent students from hearing ideas with which they disagree. Bias Response Teams act on anonymous tips to interrogate individuals when others report being offended.

Fortunately, state lawmakers continue to enact proposals to counter these ideas: Arizona is one of several states to abolish free speech zones in recent years, while lawmakers in North Carolina and Georgia, along with Arizona legislators and the Wisconsin state university system governing board have adopted proposals in just the last 12 months to protect individuals’ efforts to speak freely.

Meanwhile, groups that defend freedom are taking colleges to court over their speech policies, and now Bias Response Teams may be on the docket.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that a membership association of students, alumni, and faculty called Speech First is challenging the University of Michigan’s Bias Response Team. Speech First says, “Bias Response Teams are fundamentally un-American and have no place on college campuses.” The group says the University of Michigan’s Bias Response Team can be alerted by “staggering amounts of protected speech.”

“Speech First asserts that the lack of clear and meaningful standards in both the school’s speech code and bias response system present a serious risk that it will be enforced in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner and may be used to target speech based on a speaker’s viewpoint,” said the group in their announcement of the lawsuit.

The group says some of its members at Michigan will not talk about political topics because “they fear their speech will be anonymously reported as offensive, biased, and/or hateful to university authorities through the bias response system.”

As this blog has reported, Bias Response Teams are chilling speech at campuses around the country. From tracking professors expressing their opinions to chastising students dressing as three blind mice for Halloween, Bias Response Teams seem to be crusading against creativity.

Bias Response Teams do anything but protect free expression. Colleges should not be in the business of protecting students from ideas with which they disagree. No one will be doing so once students graduate, so universities don’t do students any favors by coddling them on campus. Let’s hope the challenge to Michigan’s Bias Response Team is just the beginning.

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