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August 22, 2019

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Faculty wary of bias policy review

UNLV vice president who helped write the draft is named to head evaluation

UNLV administrators’ decision to review and possibly revamp a proposed hate crimes and bias policy has failed to quell faculty discontent over the document, which some professors fear will squelch free speech on campus.

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

Some faculty leaders say the administration ignored concerns about academic freedom in crafting the policy, which the university aims to adopt by July.

And now some question UNLV President David Ashley’s choice of Christine Clark, the vice president of diversity and inclusion who helped develop the draft policy, to head a task force that will evaluate the policy and weigh options including a potential revision.

“Faculty believe that she did not listen to their concerns regarding this policy and will not now as chair of the task force,” Bryan Spangelo, a faculty senator and former faculty senate chairman, wrote in an e-mail.

“In many instances faculty in the College of Sciences have voiced their opinion of the policy to Dr. Clark in forums, only to be ignored,” David Hatchett, another faculty senator, wrote in an e-mail.

“The concepts and methods proposed for evaluating and reporting hate crimes and bias are far (too) nebulous in the policy, providing a vehicle for abuse of academic freedom and First Amendment rights ... It is not acceptable to have Dr. Clark re-evaluate policy that she has crafted in light of the fact that alternative opinions regarding the improvement of the policy have been ignored,” Hatchett said.

Last month, Clark said a close reading makes it clear that the document is designed to encourage free speech, supporting people “in developing the skills and comfort to sustain dialogue on complex and controversial issues over time.”

Controversial statements that serve to promote intellectual inquiry do not constitute bias incidents under the proposed policy, and Clark said sections in the draft including those dealing with academic freedom and definitions of hate crimes and bias incidents included verbatim comments from faculty.

Clark said she is open to changes. Even before the public flare-up over the proposed policy, administrators integrated feedback from faculty members into the document during a vetting process that involved numerous discussions with faculty leaders.

“I honestly do not have an opinion on where we should end up,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I am looking forward to the process and seeing where it takes us.”

The document 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. The formal process calls for reporting all bias incidents to Clark’s office and the offices of the vice president of student affairs.

The draft policy was labeled a “final” version, but Ashley called it a “work in progress” as criticism from stakeholders outside the university began to mount.

The ACLU of Nevada’s general counsel declared the document unconstitutional, saying 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.

On Tuesday Ashley sent out a memo announcing the ad hoc policy task force — a day after the chancellor of Nevada’s public higher education system lambasted the draft in the media, saying, “somebody ought to start over and write it.”

The higher education system’s general counsel is now reviewing the hate crimes policies of all campuses, Chancellor Jim Rogers said.

The UNLV task force is charged with considering three options for the proposed policy: Keeping the policy as currently formulated, revising the draft to incorporate feedback from faculty and the ACLU of Nevada, or changing the draft so it addresses only hate crimes.

Besides Clark, the four-member group includes Vice President of Student Affairs Juanita Fain, Vice President and General Counsel Richard Linstrom, and the faculty senate vice chairwoman.

Despite the presence of a faculty leader on the task force, some faculty members are skeptical it will result in real changes, pointing out that the group’s mandate leaves open the possibility of adopting the policy in its current form.

“There’s a general consensus among people in the College of Sciences that this ad hoc committee is not representative of anything,” Hatchett said. “It’s representative of the administration again.”

Some faculty members say whatever the outcome, no policy should be adopted without the faculty senate’s approval.

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