Dan Way writes for the Martin Center about a new tool that could stifle free speech on college campuses.

Colleges are using a new tool with the frightening potential to shut down open dialogue. They go by the benign-sounding name of “bias response teams.”

Bias response teams monitor what students and faculty say. They encourage students to report, often anonymously, comments or behavior that make them feel uncomfortable or threatened, even if the speech or conduct is constitutionally protected. Those who are reported can face referral to student conduct administrators or law enforcement, but records on whether or how often punitive action is meted out are elusive. Indeed, colleges are reluctant to share much of the data collected by them. …

… North Carolina ranks No. 6 among states, with 10 college bias response teams, according to a study published by FIRE, entitled Bias Response Team Report 2017. The state trails only New York (27), California (22), Pennsylvania (15), Wisconsin (13), and Massachusetts (12). North Carolina schools with bias response teams include Appalachian State University, Davidson College, Duke University, Elon University, Fayetteville State University, North Carolina State University, UNC-Asheville, UNC-Charlotte, Wake Forest University, and Western Carolina State University.

Bias response teams are the counter by higher education to court rulings against campus free speech zones and walls, and speech codes violating the First Amendment. But like those prior methods, bias response teams don’t always embrace the full spectrum of constitutionally protected speech and expression. The teams can have the same chilling effect when colleges and universities try to curb speech in disfavor.