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September 14, 2014

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Higher education:

Chancellor wants UNLV bias policy rewritten

Updated Monday, April 27, 2009 | 3:38 p.m.

The chancellor of Nevada's public higher education system said he will ask UNLV to rewrite a proposed campus policy that the ACLU of Nevada's general counsel has called unconstitutional.

The proposed policy, which the university was aiming to implement in July, outlines how members of the university community should deal with possible hate crimes and "bias incidents."

ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Gary Peck told UNLV last week that the proposed policy was anathema to core academic values including free speech on campus.

Chancellor Jim Rogers, who read the policy this morning for the first time, said, "My initial reaction is that I'm very, very uncomfortable with it. I think it is far too restrictive. I think it really will impede freedom of speech."

"The chancellor's office would never support a policy that is a campus policy that impedes anybody's right of free speech," Rogers said.

Rogers said he would ask UNLV to have its lawyers and law professors who understand the First Amendment to review the draft policy.

"I think probably, somebody ought to start over and write it," he said of the proposed policy.

The Sun ran a story Saturday on the ACLU's concerns, and a Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist wrote about the draft policy in a Sunday opinion piece.

ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Gary Peck said after speaking with higher education officials including the chancellor and UNLV president, "I think it's fair to say that all of them were very gracious, very professional, very open to meeting with the ACLU representatives, discussing the draft policy. They are amenable to considering changes that might be necessary to bring it into conformance with the first amendment, with free speech and academic freedom principles."

The policy draft, circulated among faculty leaders this month, defines "bias incidents" as "verbal, written, or physical acts of intimidation, coercion, interference, frivolous claims, discrimination, and sexual or other harassment motivated, in whole or in part, by bias" based on characteristics including actual or perceived race, religion, sex (including gender identity or gender expression or a pregnancy-related condition), physical appearance and political affiliation. Controversial statements that serve to promote intellectual inquiry do not constitute bias incidents under the proposed policy.

The draft encourages people who believe they have run into bias to take actions that could include reporting the incident to a supervisor or the police, vice president of student affairs and vice president of diversity and inclusion.

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel of the ACLU of Nevada, said the broad definition of bias incidents includes actions protected by the U.S. Constitution, such as making comments that denigrate somebody's race or religion. The proposed policy gives the impression, he said, that someone who makes such remarks will be in trouble with the university or the law.

Some faculty members have expressed concern about the proposed policy's impact on academic freedom.

While UNLV President David Ashley last week called the policy draft "a work in progress," Christine Clark, UNLV's vice president of diversity and inclusion, defended it. She said a close reading makes it clear that the document is designed to encourage free speech, supporting people ³in developing the skills and comfort to sustain dialogue on complex and controversial issues over time."

The policy outlines "informal" and "formal" processes for handling bias, encouraging victims to use "informal options" first in cases where they do not feel threatened. These options include talking to alleged offenders about what has occurred.

Clark said in cases where people accused of bias have not committed a crime or violated a university code of conduct, the policy does not compel them to participate in dialogue about the perceived bias or take other action.

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