UMich claims free speech lawsuit has ‘mistaken premises’

UMich, however, insists that "there is nothing in university policy that inhibits students from expressing their views on any topic."

Speech First, a national 1A advocacy group, filed the suit earlier this month, alleging that the school's harassment policies and Bias Response Team impose stricter penalties for actions it deems to be motivated by "bias."

The University of Michigan is taking a recent First Amendment lawsuit very seriously, devoting several pages of its website to rebutting the "mistaken" claims that its policies restrict free expression on campus.

The University of Michigan is vowing to fight back against a lawsuit accusing the school of using its harassment and “bias” policies to stifle free expression on campus.

In a statement posted on its website, the university strongly denies the claims made in a lawsuit filed earlier in the month by Speech First, which challenges the school’s Bias Response Team and contends that UMich “has a disciplinary code that prohibits ‘harassment’ and ‘bullying,’ and increases the penalties if such actions are motivated by ‘bias.’”

The Speech First lawsuit specifically cites the school’s Bias Response Team as “a grave threat to free expression at the University,” saying it is “unconstitutional under the doctrines of overbreadth, vagueness, and prior restraints.”

[RELATED: Watchdog takes UMich to court over ‘subjective’ speech code]

However, UMich claims that Speech First “mischaracterized” its policies and programs, asserting that Speech First has framed the policies in a way that “does not reflect the true vibrancy of debate and discussion on campus,” and insisting that “there is nothing in university policy that inhibits students from expressing their views on any topic.”

UMich also said it has asked the judge to give its lawyers until June 25 to file their opposition to a motion for preliminary injunction filed by the plaintiff, which would force the school to suspend the policies in question while the case is being deliberated.

The university also created several supplementary resources, including a page titled “Free Speech On Campus,” which articulates the school’s rhetorical commitment to free speech and proudly links to a list of speakers who have brought “diverse viewpoints and perspectives” to campus, going all the way back to 1991.

The webpage also defends the Bias Response Team, claiming that it is “just one resource to help us achieve our goal of creating an inclusive, respectful, and welcoming environment, where all voices can be heard.”

[RELATED: University shuts down bias reporting system after complaint]

Nicole Neily, president and founder of Speech First, told Campus Reform that U-M cannot both maintain a Bias Response Team and “NOT chill students’ speech and expression.”

“I’m sure there are some administrators at the University of Michigan who do sincerely support the principles of free speech,” Neily acknowledged. “Unfortunately, the school’s policies don’t live up to that commitment at the present time, and we look forward to presenting our case to the court. 

A spokesperson for U-M did not share any new information with Campus Reform, but stated that there will be further communication from the university addressing the lawsuit.

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