Professors Claim Sexual Harassment Ban Is Violating The First Amendment

A group of college professors have released a report that claims the federal government’s attempts to combat sexual harassment are stifling educators’ free speech on university campuses.

The American Association of University (AAUP) found that the current interpretation of the government’s Title IX laws which cover sexual harassment have made it hard for professors, especially female professors, to teach their students. Right now, if a student finds something offensive and complains about it, universities immediately open up an investigation into that teacher’s actions, no matter how “questionable” that complaint is.

According to the report, the failure of the federal government to make “meaningful distinctions between conduct and speech or otherwise distinguish between hostile environment sexual harassment” is putting academic freedom and free speech in jeopardy. The general counsel of the association and the chairwoman of the subcommittee who wrote the report, Risa L. Lieberwitz spoke to the NY Times, saying:

“We need to protect academic speech and the freedom that goes with academic speech, as well as due process. Universities are acting in a way that is overly precipitous as well as applying overly broad definitions of sexual harassment because they are afraid of scrutiny.”

The report even gives examples to support their claims. One of those was regarding Sociology Professor Patty Adler’s class,”Deviance in US Society,” at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Adler had taught the class for more than twenty years and each semester around five hundred students enrolled in it, but in 2013 some of the students complained that her class “constituted sexual harassment”:

At the conclusion of the term, undergraduate teaching assistants participated in and witnessed role-playing exercises featuring subjects relevant to course material involving the global sex trade: these performances animated character types, such as an “Eastern European ‘slave whore,’ a pimp, a ‘bar whore,’ and a high-end escort.” Adler’s Dean offered her a buyout for early retirement and indicated if she did not accept the offer, she could incur penalties up to and including forfeiture of her retirement benefits.

Her other option was to return to the classroom but never teach the course again. When students, faculty and advocacy groups found out what was happening they protested the school’s ultimatum and eventually the university relented and welcomed her back without any conditions. However, the incident took such a toll on her that she only stayed for one semester and then retired.

Professor Adler is not alone, similar incidents have happened all across the country and that is the violation of free speech and academic freedom the AAUP found so troubling. The group is not advocating sexual harassment, they are just asking that the government draw clearer lines between what is and what isn’t harassment so that students can be properly educated.

Right now, the lines are so blurry that colleges and universities are doing a disservice to the students who pay thousands of dollars for a well-rounded curriculum. Of course, these schools should act if a professor is violating the law, but there is a huge difference between harassment and “well, this is an uncomfortable, intellectual topic.” Nobody benefits when schools don’t use common sense when investigating claims.

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