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April 23, 2014

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higher education:

Policy on campus bias scrapped by UNLV

UNLV has removed controversial portions of a proposed hate crimes policy that, in its earlier form, was deemed unconstitutional by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.

A previous version outlined how members of the campus community should deal with bias, encouraging those who run into bias to take actions that could include filing a complaint with campus police. The civil rights group’s general counsel, Allen Lichtenstein, argued that the policy draft’s loose definition of bias included actions protected by the First Amendment such as making comments denigrating a person’s race or religion.

The new version of the policy, scheduled to go into effect July 1, focuses entirely on hate crimes instead. A faculty senate task force will review what, if anything, the university should do to address “bias incidents.”

“The bias piece was the piece that was causing the greatest concern for the faculty senate,” said UNLV Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Christine Clark, who helped write the original version.

UNLV President David Ashley has approved the new hate crimes policy, which Lichtenstein judged “considerably better than the previous version.”

The attorney still thinks the document is flawed, however. He said its definition of a hate crime is inaccurate and, like the earlier policy draft’s definition of “bias incidents,” overly broad.

The policy defines a hate crime as a “violation of a local, state or federal criminal law motivated by reason of the actual or perceived race, sex, age, color, national origin, ethnicity, creed, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender, marital status, pregnancy, veteran status, or political affiliation of another person or group of persons.”

Lichtenstein said, “They’re making that particular definition up.”

In Nevada, people convicted of certain crimes might face greater penalties if motivated by characteristics such as race, Lichtenstein said.

“I am not aware of any (penalty) enhancements for disagreement over politics,” he said.

“If there are competing demonstrations when the president comes to town, and a Democrat takes a punch at a Republican because of that, it may be an assault. It’s not a hate crime,” Lichtenstein said.

Under UNLV’s definition, however, it would be, he said.

According to a UNLV spokesman, Clark said a second task force, which vetted the hate crimes policy, believes it “can be supported legally when looking at federal and state law, and (Nevada System of Higher Education) and UNLV policy in sum.”

Though a Board of Regents committee will review UNLV’s revised hate crimes policy in June, higher ed system spokesman John Kuhlman said the university has the autonomy to decide what policy to adopt.

Asked whether the faculty senate task force is likely to come up with a new policy on bias in addition to the hate crimes policy, John Filler, senate chairman, responded, “I don’t think there’s any real appetite for that now.”

Many faculty members viewed the bias component of the previous policy draft as incompatible with academic freedom.

Professors had feared that the proposed policy would limit what they could say in the classroom even though the document specified that controversial statements promoting intellectual inquiry would not constitute bias incidents.

Some critics pointed to the case of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, an economics professor who ran into trouble with administrators after a student complained that he had created a hostile class environment by saying that gays are less likely to save for the future in part because they are less likely to have children and because they indulge in riskier behavior.

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