GWU Students Allege Coverup Over Free Speech Violation
First a Secret Investigation, Now a Hired Mediator, Over One Word in a Private Conversation
The problem began when the president of the Student Bar Association [SBA], in a private conversation about a possible violation of GWU's alcohol policy by a Jewish fraternity, allegedly used the word "Jew"; referring to the group as someone's "Jew friends" (one version) or "the Jews" (a slightly different version).
Rather than letting law students and their various organizations deal with the matter, the Law School itself - in apparent violation of its written guarantees to students of free speech and academic freedom - made a formal complaint for an official investigation by GWU's bias response investigators, reports GWU public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
More than 200 colleges and universities reportedly have similar bias programs, often called bias response teams (and sometime even called the "speech police") which investigate allegations of allegedly biased words; an investigation which can result in a student being disciplined or required to attend diversity training (sometime termed "indoctrination")
However, according to the official GWU newspaper, law student members of the organizations involved are now fearful of "retribution from law school administrators,"
Senator members of the SBA said they oppose the imposition of mediation sessions, and would rather resolve the matter themselves as a student organization.
GWU's new bias response program is very similar to what was called at the time its anonymous snitch program. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reported at the time, it was shut down after GWU's Faculty Senate twice condemned it as a "affront to academic freedom," and GWU's president at the time sheepishly admitted that "one of my vice presidents got a little carried away."
Moreover, as the Wall Street Journal reported in "The Bias Response Team is Watching," "records from numerous universities show that even obviously silly or trivial incidents are taken seriously by Bias Response Teams." USA Today, in "To Fight Bias, Colleges are Employing Literal Speech Police," added that "most bias incidents that are reported are constitutionally protected speech."
In this specific situation, it is not even clear that using the word "Jew" to refer to a person who is Jewish is "biased" or otherwise derogatory.
For example, a Jewish author argued exactly that in an article in the Washington Post entitled "'Jew.' Why Does the Word for a Person of My Religion Sound like a Slur?"
A similar thought was expressed by another Jewish writer in a New York Times piece entitled "Reclaiming 'Jew'" in which he said :"So it's time for us to own 'Jew.' We can do so by using the word more ourselves, and by giving everyone else permission to call Jews Jews."
In this regard, Banzhaf notes that even the use of words which are clearly and obviously derogatory of those who practice the Jewish religion - e.g., "K*KE," "H*BE," "H*MIE," etc. - are fully protected under the First Amendment and academic freedom, even when used in a public discussion, much less in a private conversation between people who are not in the group being denigrated and thereby are not directly denigrated.
Thus, insisting that those who happen to use those clearly insulting words - much less simply the word "Jew" - must be subject to an official university investigation and mediation conducted by a paid mediator, is plain wrong and possibly unconstitutional, argues Banzhaf
Indeed, the Washington Post, in a piece about a university president entitled "A Red Flag on Campus Free Speech," noted: "he thereby effectively made those who disagreed with him [about Trump's election] eligible to be targets of the university's 'bias response teams.' That his announced contempt for them made him a suitable target of the thought police is a thought that presumably occurred to no one, least of all him. Now, however, this leader of a public institution is being sued for constitutional violations."
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH),
2000 H Street, NW, Wash, DC 20052, USA
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