In a proposed revision of the racial harassment policy to be published today, President Sheldon Hackney narrowed the definition of what constitutes racial harassment, following a nation-wide trend on college campuses towards removing limits on speech. The proposed change, the latest move in years of highly charged debate over the University's code, comes in the wake of a 1989 Michigan Supreme Court ruling that the University of Michigan's racial harassment code was unconstitutionally vague and in violation of the First Amendment. The University's current policy is almost identical to the Michigan code that was struck down by the high court. Hackney said last night that the narrower definition, to be published in today's Almanac, maintains a clear stance against racism while ensuring free expression. "[The proposal] provides the benefits of a policy that states that the University wants a civil environment, but also allows for the widest possible field of ideas to be expressed," the president said. Hackney acknowledged that the proposed narrowing may provide a forum for "even abhorrent ideas," but said that in an academic setting, open expression must take precedent. He also said the policy "was put together with a great deal of counsel with people with a great diversity of political viewpoints." It is not clear when the proposed guidelines, if adopted, will be put into effect. In the past, many faculty members and students have criticized Hackney's support for the pre-eminence of open expression, and some leaders said yesterday that they fear the proposal indicates a move towards toleration of racism. "I would love to have the harassment policy more broad," graduate student activist Elizabeth Hunt said last night. Hackney said that he realized that "there will be people who disagree with this," but noted that opponents and advocates of the changes will have a chance to debate the proposal at next week's University Council meeting. But Hunt said that the proposal itself already sets the tenor of the debate. "When you start with something like this, [it represents] a model of what they want," she said. But others voiced support for Hackney's proposal, saying it is a step in the right direction. "If I were writing it, I would do more," said Physics Professor Michael Cohen, one of the more vocal critics of the current code. "I think this is at least something I could live with." Vocal faculty members on both sides of the issues said last night that they could not comment on the changes because they had not seen the proposal. The proposal prohibits racial harassment, which it defines as behavior that "villifies and intimidates" a person or group on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin. It states that speech or behavior is considered villifying and intimidating only if it violates three standards. It must be intended to "demean, insult or stigmatize" a person on the basis of race; be addressed to the person or group whom it demeans; and make use of "fighting words" -- intended to incite violence -- or their non-verbal equivalents. The proposed policy also notes that "not every act that might be offensive . . . will necessarily be considered harassment." In deciding whether an act is racial harassment, the revised policy states, the incident's context must be taken into consideration "and due consideration must be given to the protection of individual rights, freedom of speech, academic freedom, and advocacy." The current policy prohibits behavior that involves a stated or implicit threat to a person's academic or employment status; interferes with an individual's academic or work performance; or creates an intimidating or offensive academic, living or work environment. University Council in April overwhelmingly supported a resolution asking Hackney to reasses the code.Comments powered by Disqus
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