Bowling Green State University receives legal directive to disband its bias reporting system

Southeastern Legal Foundation sent a demand letter to Bowling Green State University that alleges its bias reporting system is unconstitutional.

The letter demanded the university remove the system and clarify that constitutionally protected speech cannot be investigated or punished.

Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) sent a demand letter to Bowling Green State University (BGSU) Monday night demanding the Ohio school rescind its Bias Reporting System (BRS).

“We are concerned that the policy infringes on students’ First Amendment rights because it allows officials to discriminate against the content and viewpoints of speech,’’ the letter obtained by Campus Reform reads. “The policy also unconstitutionally chills freedom of expression because it allows anyone on campus to report students for perceived bias incidents.”

Witnesses or victims of ‘bias incidents’ can file a complaint via the Bias Report Form to report “name-calling, stereotyping, belittling,” or exclusion based on identity. 

BGSU defines a “bias incident” as “language and/or actions that demonstrate bias against persons because of, but not limited to, their actual or perceived race, color, religion, ethnic or national origin, gender, genetic information, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or status as a military veteran.”

[RELATED: Nonprofit drafts model legislation to combat bias report systems]

SLF, however, argues that such a system is unconstitutional and infringes on student speech rights and demanded that the university remove the word “language” from the official definition. 

“Vague and overbroad policies are especially dangerous when students must hazard guesses as to what conduct or speech is punishable; students cannot be expected to comply with a vague school policy when they have no way of knowing exactly what is required or prohibited,” the letter reads.

The legal organization also implored the university to link its Freedom of Speech webpage to the BRT site, and clarify that constitutionally protected speech cannot be investigated. Meetings scheduled due to the BRT would, therefore, be conducted voluntarily.

BGSU’s BRT is operated by the Division of Student Affairs. The website publicizes a yearly record of reports that were filed through the system and what action was taken. It was last updated in October 2021.

Last September, a report was filed over alleged “insensitive” comments made during a game in a residence hall. As a result, the Office of Residence Life met with all residents on the floor “to discuss the impact of the comment and provide further education.”

Another September incident concerned an off-campus comment, and one report claimed a course textbook used “outdated medical views regarding intersex and transgender individuals.”

The textbook case was referred to the Equity & Compliance Officer.

[RELATED: 1A lawyers brief students on free speech rights ahead of the fall semester]

Two students were reported for “making insensitive comments based off ethnicity” by an uninvolved third party. The Office of Residence Life met with the pair to “discuss the impact of the comments.”

In the letter, SLF alleged the BRS could be weaponized against conservatives and make students hesitant to discuss topics that “may offend” others, such as abortion or transgenderism.

“Recent cases make clear that bias response teams and bias reporting systems impose an unconstitutional chilling effect on speech. They force students to consider whether their speech could offend their peers, which could mean anything these days,” the letter read. 

It further challenged that the BRS permits students to “falsely” report their peers without accountability and, as a result, students remain silent on campus for fear of retaliation.

“Rather than risk being reported for expressing their true views, and facing lengthy investigations that could result in punishment, students choose to remain silent,” SLF argued.

Campus Reform contacted BGSU, the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of Residence Life, and the Equity & Compliance Office for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.

Follow @Alexaschwerha1 on Twitter.