University Revises ‘Chilling’ Student Snitching System After Receiving Legal Demand Letter

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A public university in Wisconsin revised its bias reporting system to clarify that it will not punish students for constitutionally protected speech, according to a Monday press release by the legal nonprofit Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF).

SLF sent 12 legal demand letters in October 2022 to universities across the country that incorporated policies that allegedly violated students’ speech rights, according to its website. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) revised the language on its bias reporting system, through which students and faculty can report hate or biased incidents, to confirm it will not punish constitutionally protected speech.

“Hate or bias incidents do not necessarily violate the law or university policy,” the bias reporting system website now reads. “As a public university, UWM is bound by the First Amendment and will not sanction or punish a member of the university community for exercising their right to freedom of speech and expression.”

SLF wrote in October that the school’s reporting system was “unconstitutionally vague and overbroad” and posed a chilling effect on student speech, according to the letter. It demanded the school disband the system or, at a minimum, “clarify that speech is protected and cannot be subject to any investigation or punishment.”

The university complied by adding the specification to the reporting system website and confirms that hate speech, which it defined as “hateful comments that demean a person or group of people based on their personal characteristics such as race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation” is protected by the First Amendment. While the university will no longer punish such speech, it maintained it will provide “care and support to those impacted by hateful and offensive speech and expression through the hate/bias reporting process.”

SLF announced the revision as a victory, according to Monday’s press release.

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