University of Texas Disbands Anti-Free Speech Group

AP Photo/Eric Gay

Let’s score another victory for free speech. As you already know, radical leftists on college campuses nationwide have engaged in full-on efforts to restrict political views that contradict their own. It’s been a problem for years, but the situation worsened after President Donald Trump took office and political tensions increased.

But it appears that those who value the spirit of the First Amendment are successfully pushing back against leftists who would suppress their voices. The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the University of Texas has dissolved its Campus Climate Response Team. This group was tasked with monitoring students and members of the faculty to identify individuals who broke the rules of progressivism.

Members of the team could subject professors and students to disciplinary action if they said something they deemed to be offensive.

From the Journal:

“Students could anonymously report their professors and peers for ‘bias incidents’ to the Campus Climate Response Team, which would investigate and threaten disciplinary referrals and ‘restorative justice’ meetings with administrators. The university gave several examples of what constitutes an act of bias, including ‘faculty commentary in the classroom perceived as derogatory and insensitive,’ and other behavior open to highly subjective judgments about what is offensive.”

The Journal credited Speech First, a nonprofit group that sued the university on behalf of students in 2018, alleging that officials “created an elaborate investigatory and disciplinary apparatus to suppress, punish, and deter speech that other students deem ‘offensive,’ ‘biased,’ ‘uncivil,’ or ‘rude.’”

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2019. University spokesman J.B. Bird referenced the court’s decision on Wednesday, stating that there was “no evidence students were disciplined, sanctioned or investigated for their speech” and that, “to the contrary,” there was “strong evidence of the university protecting the speech rights of conservative students and guests on campus.”

However, Speech First appealed the decision and the “Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the ruling and remanded the case back to the district court,” according to the Journal.

Circuit Court Judge Edith Jones slammed the bias-response team, arguing that it was “clenched fist in the velvet glove of student speech regulation.”

Now, the university’s administrators have agreed to dissolve the team as part of a settlement and will also alter policies designed to squelch speech. They are lifting the ban on “uncivil behaviors and language that interfere.” They are also removing a definition of “verbal harassment” that barred “ridicule” or “personal attacks.”

Under the settlement, UT reserves the right “to devise an alternative” to its bias-response team, but “Speech First is free to challenge that alternative.” Speech First has also succeeded in changing policies at Iowa State and the University of Michigan. Keeping track of campus censors these days is a full-time job, alas.

The university can still alter, or create new rules regarding speech on campus. It can also create a new team. But it is apparent that the lawsuit has made it so that they cannot brazenly step on free speech on campus for political purposes. The progressives in charge will surely attempt to find other ways to suppress opposing views, but they won’t be nearly as effective as they were previously.

This case demonstrates to students and faculty at other universities that the radical leftists’ authoritarian approach to speech isn’t impossible to overcome. Perhaps if more groups like Speech First are willing to step up and fight these battles in the court, conservatives and others can more effectively fight those intent on silencing them on college campuses.

 

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