UMich nixes dorm speech policy in wake of lawsuit

The University of Michigan eliminated a policy allowing housing staff to censor what students placed on their dorm doors.

UMich made the move while embroiled in a free speech lawsuit with the nonprofit Speech First.

For the second time in less than a year, the University of Michigan revised its free speech policies on campus following a First Amendment lawsuit against the school. 

The latest set of changes affect dorms and residence halls, where housing staff were previously able to censor what students could place on their dorm doors. Under the new regulations, housing staff may not remove writings or postings from student doors without the student’s permission, even in the event of “hate speech,” according to The Michigan Daily.

The new policy does not extend to common areas in residence halls, and a number of processes remain in place to report certain speech some might find offensive. Amir Baghdadchi, senior associate director of University Housing, told The Michigan Daily that students may report harmful speech to staff, who may then forward the information to the Housing Diversity and Inclusion unit. 

[RELATED: UMich caves after DOJ calls speech policies 'unconstitutional']

This reversal is just the latest of several since Speech First, a free speech advocacy group, first sued the University of Michigan in May 2018. The lawsuit alleges that UMich has unconstitutionally broad and “highly subjective” policies with regards to "harassment," "bullying," and "bias," which impact students’ right to free expression. 

The Department of Justice endorsed this lawsuit with a statement of interest in June 2018. In its statement, the DOJ criticized the university’s “Bias Response Team” and said it “chills protected speech.” 

After the DOJ’s statement, the University of Michigan revised its speech policies by adding “additional safeguards for free speech.” These safeguards came after the UMich initially defended its policies and claimed they had been "mischaracterized" by government attorneys at the DOJ. 

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Dylan Berger, UMich's College Republicans chairman, praised the new changes in policy while speaking with Campus Reform.

“We’ve always opposed any effort by the university to censor free speech. In order for universities to remain thriving marketplaces of ideas, they must maintain respect for all political viewpoints,” Berger told Campus Reform. “That’s why we’re glad the University of Michigan decided to back down from their anti-free speech policy in residence halls. The new policy both protects free speech and provides an avenue for combating any hate speech. Hopefully, other universities will follow this example and back down from the crusade against free speech.” 

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