Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Monday, November 12, 2018

Free speech group criticizes AU policies

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education believes AU’s sexual discrimination and harassment policy is a “blatant violation of students’ rights.”

AU’s policy received a “red light” warning from the student rights organization for its definition of harassment — “an intimidating, hostile or coercive act which is intentional or persistent” — because it could very easily be used against protected speech, according to Adam Kissel, FIRE’s vice president of programs.

Kissel said some of the examples of sexual harassment listed in the policy, including sexual innuendos, sexist jokes and remarks, could be misconstrued.

“That probably happens on the subway,” he said at an event sponsored by Students for Liberty April 13. “You have the right to be a jerk.”

AU is currently revising its sexual harassment policy to combine the current, different student, faculty and staff policies into one policy, among other changes, according to Dean of Students Rob Hradsky.

“The University believes firmly in one’s right to free expression,” Hradsky said in an e-mail. “We are equally committed to creating and maintaining a university environment where faculty, staff and students have the right to live, work and study without fear of intimidation, coercion or exploitation.”

AU’s discrimination and discriminatory harassment policy and the computer use and copyright policy received “yellow light” warnings.

Kissel said the racial discrimination part of the discrimination and discriminatory harassment policy isn’t too bad, but FIRE believes it is poorly written.

The computer use and copyright policy includes a section about harassment or intimidation over the Internet, defined as “broadcasting unsolicited messages, repeatedly sending unwanted mail or using another individual’s name or user name.”

“That doesn’t sound like harassment or intimidation to me,” Kissel said.

There’s room to improve the policies overall, but Kissel said AU is almost there and there’s not much to fix.

AU’s freedom of expression guidelines received a “green light” rating.

sdazio@theeagleonline.com


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