Another Nichol Outrage at W&M?

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a conservative group associated with Lynne Cheney and committed to academic freedom on American campuses, has made an issue of the “Bias Incident Reporting System” at William & Mary. The system encourages members of the W&M community to report “biased behavior” to a special committee, asserts ACTA in a recent press release.

Originally, the system was designed to encourage people to file complaints over “harassment, intimidation or other hostile behavior that is directed at a member of the William and Mary community because of that person’s race, sex (including pregnancy), age, color, disability, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status,” reports ACTA.

Some students, alumni and at least one law school professor objected to the “schoolyard tattletale system” designed to support a “politically skewed code of conduct.” They took the issue public, running an ad in the student newspaper in October, and launching a website.

According to ACTA, W&M has since modified the “bias incident reporting system” web page, which now states:

The Reporting System does not create a new category of prohibited behavior or a new process for members of the College community to be disciplined or sanctioned. The Bias Incident Reporting Team has no authority to discipline any student or member of the faculty or staff. When reported conduct is subject to existing College disciplinary or judicial procedures, referral services will be provided by the Chair of the Bias Incident Response Team. For example, if conduct by a faculty member is reported as a bias incident, the matter will be pursued through applicable procedures set forth in the Faculty Handbook.

“The administration can tinker with the system all it wants. The fact is, it needs to go,” said Anne D. Neal, president of ACTA. “The system is ripe for abuse, and the administration has offered no reason for why it’s needed. What’s wrong with free speech?” ACTA has written President Gene R. Nichol urging him to scrap the system. He has not answered the letter.

There are two ways to react to this controversy. While the W&M has the potential for abuse, one could argue, ACTA offers no evidence that it has been abused. Has anyone been unjustly persecuted? If not, what’s the big fuss?

But there’s another way of looking at it: Why even institute such a measure in the first place? Has W&M been plagued with incidents of bias? Does intolerance threaten the delicate harmony of the college community? If not, why set up a full-blown administrative apparatus — a reporting sytem, an incident reporting team, and referrals to college disciplinary procedures — for a problem that doesn’t exist?

This controversy strikes me as a tempest in a teapot. But it speaks volumes about the politically correct attitudes reigning in the W&M administration and the distrust that President Nichol has engendered among many of his alumni.

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10 responses to “Another Nichol Outrage at W&M?”

  1. Much ado about nothing here, in my opinion. Or is it?

    I looked at the web site. You have to sign in with your W&M user ID and password. So, you have to submit the bias report under your own true name.

    Every company I have ever seen has a policy (usually many policies) against harrassment. Every company that I know has a process for people who feel they have been harrassed or witnessed harassment to file a complaint. In fact, most companies have policies that say failure to report harassment is a problem. Most companies also have training regarding the definition of harassment.

    Free speech is, in my opinion, more narrowly defined than people think. I can’t go to Mass and stand up and start chanting devil worship poems. I’d be escorted out of the church and rightly so. I can’t go into a classroom at a college and call the professor a racial slur. I’d be asked to leave and rightly so. You can’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater.

    There are some obvious things that people should be taught (all their lives) to avoid saying. No matter how mad you get at someone you can’t use racial slurs or harsh sexist language.

    But the devil, as always, is in the details (no offense to devil worshipers).

    The bigger question is on the more subtle side – as usual. Can you make a racial slur about your own race? Can I call myself a gringo? If so, would it be wrong for an Hispanic person to call me a gringo? Do we have two classes of restricted language – one class for people of one race who may use insulting terms in reference to their own race and a second class applicable to people of a different race? At W&M can I start a club called CHAG – Chuck Honkey Anglo-Saxon Gringos? Or would somebody report me for supposedly insulting myself? This kind of discussion seems abstract until you listen to the lyrics of rap and hip-hop music. Should these songs be banned at W&M? If somebody plays them should they be reported? If the song contains terms normally considered slurs against African-Americans can it be played by an African-American but not by somebody else? If I am listening to my iPod and singing along to the song do I have to avoid singing the words that could be offensive? What if it’s a Skin Head song written by racist white people to denigrate African-Americans? Are those same words now banned because they had a malevolent intent?

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Groveton, Good observations. As you say, institutions need mechanisms to handle harrassment and abusive behavior.

    The suspicion is that, in the hands of a Politically Correct administration, incidents affecting certain categories of victims will generate more outrage and be deemed more significant and worthy of punishment than others. The recent hooplah at Mary Washington College — admittedly, a different institution — does not inspire confidence.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    oh for the good old days.. when we didn’t have these kinds of problems.

  4. Rtwng Extrmst Avatar
    Rtwng Extrmst

    I guess the question I have is what business is it of W&M whether anyone in the student body is “biased” or not as long as they arent committing crimes against anyone else? I can see where reporting bias amongst the university faculty might be of interest to them since this could affect their treatment of students in fairness to their grades, but the student body? Since when is it a crime in and of itself to be “biased”?

  5. Christie Wren Avatar
    Christie Wren

    While universities like Virginia Tech are grappling with “real” problems and incidents, President Nichol of W&M seems eager to create problems for himself and the institution, problems not really related to academic mission.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I think we ought to go out and round up anyone making trouble along these lines and make them listen to Bill O’Reily for 100 hours non-stop.. then followed by 100 hours of Lou Dobbs.. then 100 hours of Rush… and then have to listen to Anne Coulter lecture on gays and patriotism…

    anyone who is not cured – get waterboarded…

  7. This is an area of moral and intellectual “thin ice”. You can’t stop bias and shouldn’t even try. However, you also can’t allow a hostile environment where some people harrass others based on race, religion, etc.

    W&M has instituted the Bias Incident Reporting System not the Bias Reporting System.

    However, the devil is in the details and common sense works better than hundreds of pages of policy.

    When I was at UVA there was a small group of men who would sit on a balcony on sunny Friday afternoons drinking beer (quite legal at that time). They would wait for young women to walk by and then hold up cards with numbers on them. Women they considered attractive would get an 8, 9, or 10. Women they considered unattractive got 1, 2, or 3. Needless to say, this upset most women and many men. One day the “brain trust” gave a woman a low score. She did not appreciated being rated at all – let alone being rated low. Neither did her very large and tough boyfriend. He paid the “brain trust” a visit and the rating system was quickly discontinued.

    Sometimes the simple answers are the best.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    do you guys remember when we used to make fun of governments like China checking up on people to see if they were saying “wrong” things?

    I think I could handle the “gringo” handle.. but I’d draw the line at F-INg Honkie/Gringo. 🙂

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    …”Women they considered attractive would get an 8, 9, or 10″

    we used to do this at work.. but all women got high scores.. only the guys got 1’s and 2’s….

  10. Rtwng Extrmst Avatar
    Rtwng Extrmst

    I’d have no problem with a harassment incident reporting system, but a bias incident? C’mon!

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