Montana Western claims 'mean' speech ban only 'looks like' policy

Amid backlash from free speech advocates, the University of Montana Western removed its policy banning "mean" speech from the "civility standards" portion of its student code of conduct.

The university now says the policy was never intended as a policy but rather to "promote good citizenship."

The University of Montana Western removed a policy that previously banned “mean, nasty, or vindictive” speech in spoken or written words.

The now-removed portion of the Student Code of Conduct at UMW had a “Civility Standards” section, which laid out a set of “expectations” that applied to all face-to-face and virtual interactions, as exposed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) speech code of the month.

“While discussions may become heated and passionate, they should never become mean, nasty, or vindictive in spoken or printed or emailed words, facial expressions, or gestures,” the Student Code of Conduct at UMW stated.

[RELATED: Montana Western ‘civility standards’ ban ‘mean’ speech]

Violations of the Student Code of Conduct carried possible punishments ranging from the suspension of a student’s technology account or a student’s suspension from the school, all the way to expulsion in the most extreme cases.

Now, those “Civility Standards” are nowhere to be found in the Student Code of Conduct. UMW confirmed with Campus Reform that it removed the policy from the university website.

“After FIRE designated the University of Montana Western’s policy on civility as our Speech Code of the Month for December, the university quickly reached out to inform us that the policy had been rescinded and removed from its website,” Laura Beltz, policy reform program officer at FIRE, said. “We’re pleased to see this positive development, and welcome further collaboration between FIRE and the university on its remaining speech codes.”

Beltz previously argued that the policy could be used to unconstitutionally punish students at the university, as the terms used in the policy were deemed by FIRE to be “subjective” and “unacceptable at a public university like Montana Western.”

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While UMW did remove the “Civility Standards” portion of the Student Code of Conduct, the school argued that while it “looked” like a policy, it was “NOT policy,” and was rather placed incorrectly in the Student Code of Conduct.

“The ‘statement of responsibility’ to which FIRE has called attention was never intended to be a code or policy and has never been used to discipline anyone. Upon receiving FIRE’s letter, Chancellor Weatherby called together a group of staff who were here in 2013, when this was drafted,” UMW spokesman Matt Raffety told Campus Reform. “It was meant to promote good citizenship, but it was clearly placed incorrectly. It looks like policy. It is NOT policy. We have removed it.”

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