As colleges across the country struggle with questions related to free speech on campuses, some schools have implemented policies that appear to give administrators significant latitude to discipline students for speaking in unpopular ways.
Most recently, the dean’s office of Utah Valley University, a public institution located in the north-central part of Utah, distributed a guidance letter to all faculty encouraging them to report to the school’s Behavior Assessment Team any students who use “inappropriate language,” are “argumentative,” or who speak “loudly.”
The letter, titled “Recognizing and Responding to Students of Concern,” was provided to The College Fix by a professor at Utah Valley. The document instructs faculty on the various types of behaviors that merit concern, including stalking, angry outbursts and bullying, as well as the signs that a student may harm himself or others.
The guidance letter gave professors advice on how to respond to a wide range of student behaviors. Professors are instructed to use techniques ranging from “supportive gestures” to calling 911, depending on the severity of the situation.
It also advises faculty to report “concerning…communication” and vulgar language.
The professor who provided the memo to The Fix said it was distributed one day after an administrator told faculty at a back-to-school meeting that if they heard a statement that made Utah Valley University seem “less inclusive,” that statement should also be reported to the Behavior Assessment Team.
“I’m afraid that this Behavior Assessment Team is a bias response team in disguise,” said the professor, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid professional retribution.
“Yes, even in a deep-red state at a university in one of the most conservative counties in America, faculty are afraid to speak their minds publicly if their opinions aren’t 100 percent politically correct,” the professor told The Fix.
The scholar added he sees the Behavior Assessment Team as “a tool of intimidation instead of a tool to foster inclusion.”
The College Fix made repeated requests to campus officials for comment. Associate Dean of Students Ashley Larsen directed The Fix to speak with campus spokesman Layton Shumway; Shumway, however, did not return any of The Fix’s repeated emails.
The professor who spoke to The Fix said the change in policy may have come as a response to a profanity-laced flyer that was distributed on campus in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.
“In the past,” the faculty member told The Fix, “we have always been told that [the Behavioral Assessment Team] was for students who were a threat to physical safety…or for students who are disrupting the learning process. This year is the first time when we have been encouraged to report students for their words that may go against the inclusivity initiative or that may subjectively make someone ‘feel unsafe.’”
Other behavior that the university suggests could be reported to the Behavior Assessment Team include “unreasonable demands,” “behavior that challenges University expectations” and “making numerous complaints.”