Mizzou encourages anonymous finger-pointing for acts of intolerance

The University of Missouri wants individuals to report instances of bias and intolerance on campus, even if they refuse to reveal their identity or can’t identify the perpetrator.

“If you have witnessed or experienced a bias incident that has occurred within the MU community, please use the form below to report the incident anonymously or with your name,” the MU Equity Office instructs students on the Bias Incident Reporting web page. “Any act of intolerance, such as graffiti, name-calling, threats, hate crimes, or extreme examples of bias incidents—regardless of severity—can be reported using this form.” [Emphasis in original]

Unlike some other universities that have instituted procedures for reporting bias incidents, Mizzou does not require student or faculty credentials in order to view its bias report form, and instead actively encourages “anyone with knowledge of a bias incident”—including parents, alumni, and visitors—to submit a report.

When filing a report, the Equity Office notes that individuals are free to remain completely anonymous in case they fear retaliation or some other type of repercussion. Anonymous reports, however, are only investigated "when the facts warrant it," whereas reports that include the name and contact information of the accuser automatically trigger the informal investigation process.

According to a primer on the school’s website, Informal Investigations represent a middle ground between the formal grievance procedure and simple mediation of a dispute, allowing issues to be addressed through the administrative structure but without the strict procedure required for formal grievances. 

Depending on the nature of the incident and the investigation’s findings, the matter can subsequently be elevated to a formal grievance or downgraded to informal mediation, though the school asserts a strong preference for resolving problems “at the lowest level possible,” meaning mediation instead of official sanctions.

“If, for example, we can be fairly sure that the discriminatory behavior is effectively dealt with simply by talking to the accused individual, then we have no need to take further action,” the site explains, but concedes that in other cases—such as when the accused has a history with the office—the university may need to take “stronger measures to ensure that the violative behavior is effectively addressed, regardless of the complaining party's personal preferences.”

Yet the Equity Office also takes pains to point out that it represents the university, not the complainant, and declares that “if behavior is not discriminatory or inequitable, it is equally our function to support academic freedom and the rights of professors and supervisors to make decisions and choices that may impact employees or students in ways they do not like.”

Interestingly, the bias incident reporting procedure actually represents a de-escalation of sorts for Mizzou, which sent a mass email in November instructing students to report incidents of “hateful and/or hurtful speech” to campus police.

[RELATED: Mizzou PD asks students to report ‘hateful and/or hurtful’ speech]

The email acknowledges that “cases of hateful and hurtful speech are not crimes” but nonetheless asserts that “if the individual(s) identified are students, MU’s Office of Student Conduct can take disciplinary action.”

Although MUPD did not explicitly state that the appeal was related to the campus protests that were convulsing Mizzou’s campus at the time, its timing strongly suggests a connection, coming as it did just days after students began demonstrating for the removal of the school’s president and chancellor on the grounds that they had not responded adequately to student complaints about instances of intolerance.

[RELATED: MAP: ‘Stand with Mizzou’ demonstrations spread to campus across the country]

Spokespersons for the university had not returned phone calls from Campus Reform by press time, so it remains unclear whether the Equity Office’s bias reporting procedure was implemented in response to the last year’s racial unrest.

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