The Trump administration filed a statement of interest in support of a federal lawsuit against the University of Michigan on Monday. In a statement, the Department of Justice alleged that the prestigious university has imposed a “system of arbitrary censorship of, and punishment for, constitutionally protected speech,” by applying what the university calls its “Bias Response” teams in instances of any supposed “bias incident” reported by students, faculty or staff.
“The University’s policies prohibit speech that any listener finds ‘bothersome’ or ‘hurtful,’” declared the Trump administration’s brief, “ — an overbroad, vague, and subjective standard that is a paradigmatic example of the chilling of free expression prohibited by the First Amendment.”
In an email response, University of Michigan-Flint professor Mark J. Perry told Spero News, “Perhaps this is a direct consequence of having an army of nearly 100 full-time ‘diversicrats’”...who have nothing better to do all day than create mischief like this to justify their positions and contribute to expanding ‘administrative bloat.’” Perry -- who teaches economics and is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute -- added, “The danger of this type of suppression of free speech by the diversicrats is that it allegedly attempts to further the goals of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ but actually has the opposite effect of imposing uniformity of leftist thought and excluding any speech that challenges the orthodoxy, e.g. libertarian or conservative views.”
In a statement released by the Department of Justice, acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio said freedom of speech and expression “are under attack” on the campus of the University of Michigan and other colleges. “This Justice Department, under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is committed to promoting and defending Americans’ first freedom at public universities,” Mr. Panuccio said.
The Trump administration joined in Speech First, Inc., v. [UM President Mark] Schlissel: a lawsuit filed against the university in May by the free speech advocacy group Speech First. According to Speech First filings, the UM Bias Response Team has investigated more than 150 bias incidents since April 2017. The Bias Response Team, it is alleged, has removed flyers and posters, erased whiteboards, and investigated students and professors for remarks deemed to reveal unallowable bias. That lawsuit claimed the determinations by the Bias Response Teams’ are “completely subjective.” It cited the university’s admission that the “most important indication of bias is your own feelings.”
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on behalf of University of Michigan students. One of the student plaintiffs claimed that the University of Michigan is only permitted on campus “if your ideals align with those the University imposed on us.” The student went on to say, “In other words, people have their right to freedom of speech and expression, but only until their beliefs no longer align with the so-called ‘correct’ beliefs, then people are not allowed to freely express those opinions.”
According to the Department of Justice, Speech First alleges that the University of Michigan’s policies on “harassment,” “bullying,” and “bias” are “so vague and overbroad as to prompt students to limit their speech out of fear that they might be subject to disciplinary sanction, including ‘individual education’ or ‘restorative justice’ at the hands of the University’s Bias Response Team.”
The Trump administration argues that the University of Michigan’s Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, which prohibits “harassment,” “bullying,” and “bias,” is unconstitutional because “it offers no clear, objective definitions of the violations. Instead, the Statement refers students to a wide array of ‘examples of various interpretations that exist for the terms,’ many of which depend on a listener’s subjective reaction to speech.”
According to UM professor Perry, his research shows that the university spends at least $11 million in payroll to personnel in its Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity. Perry noted on Twitter that of the more than 70 staff members, 22 of them receive salaries in excess of $100,000 each. But he believes that the expenditure on diversity efforts at the publicly supported university may well surpass the cost of salaries. Spero News has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the University of Michigan to request an accounting of the office director’s daily activities.
In his response to Spero News, Perry wrote of the Bias Response Teams, “It’s another example of how diversity is the supposed goal of universities like UM, to the tune of $11 million per year in compensation for nearly 100 diversity bureaucrats, but it’s diversity and quotas for everything (skin color, gender, etc.) except what should be most important for an institution of higher education – diversity of thought.”