Usually it’s fine to ignore rating sites and their suggestions, but AU’s most current ranking requires an exception.
The Foundation of Individual Rights for Education (FIRE) claims that AU is a “red light university” for free speech due to our vague definition of harassment. Currently, the Student Handbook defines harassment as “an intimidating, hostile or coercive act, which is intentional or persistent.”
With our current harassment policy, students can be charged for something as simple as disagreeing with another student, according to FIRE. If a student claims someone’s opinions were “hostile” or “intimidating” and the administration agrees, a harassment case can be filed.
However, The Eagle believes that calling AU a “red light university’” solely because of our harassment policy is unreasonable. If FIRE looked at AU’s track record of on-campus protests, it would be impossible to deem AU a university with little free speech.
Students, for the most part, have been given freedom to speak their minds. Last year, students staged a protest during Gov. Jan Brewer’s speech. Following the protest there was disciplinary action taken by University administration, but it did not go any further. Only a month later students protested Gov. Rick Perry’s arrival on campus. Public Safety was on scene, but other than that no preventative measures to decrease student’s free speech were taken.
This semester has already seen a few protests, one being the Students for Justice in Palestine’s hunger strike, which wasn’t questioned by AU administration.
The Eagle gives the administration credit for being mostly hands-off in these cases. Their open-mindedness allows our campus environment to be full of controversial and thought-provoking opinions.
With all of the campus activity, FIRE’s rating seems arbitrary and incorrect. However, it does bring up a valid point about AU’s harassment policy. With such an ambiguous definition, administrators get to decide what is and isn’t harassment.
When asked, Vice President of Campus Life Gail Hanson said AU’s harassment policy does not need revision. The Eagle disagrees and fears that the administration will continue to avoid the issue. The current policy makes it easy for the administration to limit free speech by defining cases as harassment that, in a more explicit policy, would just be considered student expression.
If pressured to define harassment the administration may change their views. Organizations like the Student Media Board and Student Government need to critically look at the policy and address the vague wording. Clear guidelines are essential so both students and administration will be able to more accurately handle harassment cases in the future.
As a student newspaper, The Eagle stands behind the protection of free speech. The harassment policy can be an easy fix if AU put in the effort to make the necessary changes. Although the “red light” warning may mean very little, FIRE makes a good point. Their concerns should be acknowledged. ≠ E