Letter to the Editor: Incident reporting left unclear

April 20, 2016

Last week’s memo announcing the Hate/Bias Incident Reporting Form takes us one step closer toward the erasure of prejudice. Huzzah. With this new protocol, perhaps now offending students won’t feel compelled to issue tearful videotaped confessions of their alleged crimes.

However, while the campus climate might now be more congenial to a sanitized and stress-free existence, one wonders at what cost? This new climate just may be one of fear and paranoia, as likely to eliminate “hate” as to root out those who deviate from prevailing orthodoxies. But these two visions increasingly represent a distinction without a difference.

I just have some simple queries and observations.

Interpretations of a bias incident are endless, evidenced by the following formulation of the reporting form’s deliberately pliable language. An incident can entail “any verbally harmful act that appears to be motivated in part by any qualities of someone’s identity.” Given this suggestive and astoundingly loose definition, I think that those of us speaking in front of large groups of diverse students are owed some answers.

First, we are told that there will be a hate/bias response team to investigate reports. How will this group be comprised? To ensure a fair hearing, will members of the initial Campus Culture Working Group be excluded? Will the spirit of the group reflect a presumption of innocence, or guilt?

What degree of involvement will the campus police have? Or, will this team only be equipped to handle otherwise legal behavior?

Will the accused be afforded the same standard of guilt as he would be in a court of law, or will he be subject to the much lower “preponderance of evidence” standard employed by campus-based Title IX sexual assault investigations? In other words, if it is found to be “more likely than not” that a microaggression has occurred, what will be the punishment?

In the event of a hearing, will the accused be allowed to have a lawyer present, or will the allowance of legal representation be subject to university prerogative, as it is with the aforementioned Title IX procedure?

I personally would like an approved course topic list, perhaps under some kind of social justice rubric, so that the conversations we purport to value don’t veer into territory that might induce discomfort. Having students confront opposition in the context of critical inquiry is not worth losing one’s job.

Two years ago the Faculty Senate voted unanimously to ban surreptitious recording of class lectures and discussions. So, if a student feels she is being microaggressed in a classroom by either an instructor or a fellow student and records the exchange to upload to the Hate/Bias Reporting Form, does the administration guarantee that both parties will be disciplined accordingly?

To those oppressed by the current climate on campus, keep your ears open and your cell phones out. A surveillance apparatus has been put in place. To everyone else, lawyer up.

Finally, one clarification is needed, perhaps, for everyone’s peace of mind. Can we still hate tobacco?

Dr. Mark Zunac

Assoc. English Professor

Languages & Literatures, UW-W

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