President Sheldon Hackney's proposed revisions to the racial harassment policy were severely criticized yesterday at an open forum held about the preliminary draft. Most of the 30 participants at the forum criticized the suggested policy, claiming its wording would make it impossible for victims to prove that they have been racially harassed. Hackney, who co-sponsored and attended the forum, released the preliminary revisions to the two-year old policy in early October, following a nationwide trend on college campuses toward removing limits to free speech. He was responding to concern raised by last year's Michigan Supreme Court ruling that the University of Michigan's harassment policy -- which is almost identical to the University's current code -- was "unconstitutionally vague." Hackney released the new draft in October to solicit opinion from the University community. The new policy differs from the current one in its definition of harassment. The revision states that for speech or behavior to break the policy it must meet three qualifications: it must have malicious intent, be addressed to the person or people it offends, and constitute "fighting words." The current policy defines harassment as behavior that threatens the victim's school or work status, interferes with the victim's studies or work, or produces an intimidating environment for the victim. Yesterday's discussion focused mainly on the term "fighting words," which many minority and student government leaders said is ambiguous and may cause the policy only to invoked when violence occurs. As the group debated, Hackney sat at the back of the room, jotting notes. "I find President Hackney's proposed changes to the racial harassment policy unconscionable," Black Student League Vice President Horace Anderson said. "If fighting words become the benchmark of racial harassment, we may see a lot more fights and I don't think we want that." Many other students -- including representatives of the United Minorities Council and the Undergraduate Assembly -- decried the fact that all three stipulations must be met before an act is considered harassment, claiming that it would put the burden of proof on the victim. Few forum participants support the revisions in their present form, but some speakers applauded the president's emphasis on the protection of open expression and academic freedom. History Professor Alan Kors commended Hackney for his stance -- which the president explicitly stated last spring -- that open expression should take precedence over the racial harassment policy. Kors said harassment should be dealt with through education, and that the role of the University is to support all different ideas. "The University is committed to free expression," Kors said. "The correct response to speech is speech." Participants gave suggestions to change the policy ranging from broadening the new definition of harassment to returning to the old code. Red and Blue Editor Christopher Matton suggested abolishing the racial harassment policy altogether. Hackney said at the close of the forum that he plans to formulate another draft of the racial harassment policy after it is discussed at next week's University Council meeting. He would not say what he plans to change. The president said afterward that he was pleased with the forum, adding that he was "very interested in some of the perceptions of the definition, which is the heart of the matter." Despite the immediate criticism Hackney received upon releasing the draft in October, the president said he was not disappointed with its reception. He said he expected a lot of controversy about the policy, adding that it may take several drafts before everyone is satisfied. Yesterday's forum was sponsored by University Council, Office of the President, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the Undergraduate Assembly.Comments powered by Disqus
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