Several faculty and student leaders criticized President Sheldon Hackney yesterday for his proposed revisions to the racial harassment policy, saying that the revamped code could create a threatening campus environment. Most of the students and faculty members interviewed yesterday said that the new, narrowed definition of racial harassment proposed by Hackney gives too much leeway to people whose intent is to insult others rather than to hold open discussion. Hackney this week suggested the changes, which follow a nationwide trend toward removing limits on free speech. Discussion on the issue resurfaced last year after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the harassment policy at the University of Michigan was unconstitutionally vague. The University's current racial harassment code is almost identical to the one ruled on by the Michigan court last year. Under the revised policy, an act could only be defined as harassment if it "villifies and intimidates" a person as determined by a three-part test. 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 current policy has much less rigorous standards for determining harassment than the guidelines proposed by Hackney. It prohibits behavior that will cause a threat to a person's academic or work status, interferes with a person's academic or work performance or creates an intimidating or offensive academic, living or work environment. Past Senate Executive Committee Chairperson Robert Davies said yesterday that he thinks the president narrowed the harassment policy too much because "people can still behave in a very uncivil, uncollegial manner and get away with it." "I would like it to be a little more limiting than it is," Molecular Biology Professor Davies said. President Hackney has argued that while the new definition takes a clear stance against racism, open expression must take precedence in setting the guidelines. Hackney will make the final decisions about revisions to the harassment policy. He released the proposed changes in order to field reactions from University members. The revisions will be discussed at next week's meeting of the University Council, the president's advisory body. Davies predicted that University Council as a whole will advocate that the changes be put into effect. Graduate and Professional Student Assembly Chairperson Susan Garfinkel said last night that she is concerned about Hackney's statement that "fighting words" constitute harassment. She said it offers women less protection than it offers men because women are less likely to turn to violence when faced with provocative insults. Garfinkel said she thinks that the current policy is too vague and needs revision, but that the president has gone too far. "I feel strongly that there needs to be a maintenance of freedom of speech," Garfinkel said. "Narrowing the harassment policy is not necessarily the way to do it." She also criticized Hackney for insisting that an act only be considered harassment if it is addressed to the person or group whom it demeans. She said this would mean that some "harassment escapes persecution because it is institutionalized and accepted." But some professors asserted the pre-eminence of free expression yesterday, supporting the revisions to the harassment code. "With these changes we will be maintaining a civilized environment and at the same time protecting free speech," City Planning Professor Anthony Tomazinis said last night. Tomazinis added that he thinks the changes are a "very minute restriction of the harassment code." The president only proposed changes to the University's racial harassment policy, and not to the equally controversial sexual harassment code. Assistant to the President William Epstein said yesterday that the president did not consider changes to the sexual harassment code because University Council debate last March centered around the racial harassment code. He said Council members did not request that the president revamp the sexual harassment code, adding that the president has no plans to alter it. Currently the two policies define harassment differently. The sexual harassment code pertains only to "unwanted sexual attention." Racial harassment is more generally defined, leading some to charge that it curbs free expression. History Professor Alan Kors said last night that while he thinks the racial harassment policy requires amendment, the sexual harassment policy stands on its own. "The sexual harassment policy begins with the behavioral condition of unwanted sexual attention," Kors said. "You want a policy to protect students from the behavior of harassment but don't want a policy that will curb freedom of speech and debate." Kors said that the sexual harassment code is acceptable because it stipulates that harassment is only behavior, not limiting free speech. But United Minorities Council President Nalini Samuels said last night she thinks the sexual harassment policy should also be studied to determine if the wording is overly vague. And GAPSA's Garfinkel said she does not want University members to neglect sexual harassment policies in dealing only with racial conduct codes. "I think that sexual harassment is as big a problem as racial harassment and it shouldn't be downplayed in the face of racial harassment," she said.Comments powered by Disqus
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