University of Michigan pushes back against free speech lawsuit

The University of Michigan is pushing back against a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the school’s “Bias Response Team” and policies that allegedly chill campus speech.

In a court filing on Friday, the university said the lawsuit, filed last month by the watchdog group Speech First, presented a “false caricature” of school’s conduct code and how it is implemented.

“Speech First claims that these policies and programs chill the expression of politically conservative views on campus,” the university said in the filing. “But that claim ignores how these policies have been implemented.”

The lawsuit claimed the University of Michigan disciplinary code uses vague and broad definitions of “bullying” and “harassment,” effectively barring speech that other students might find “intimidating,” “demeaning,” “bothersome” or “hurtful.”

“Under this regime, the most sensitive student on campus effectively dictates the terms under which others may speak,” the lawsuit said.

Speech First also called for the disbandment of the university’s Bias Response Team, which the lawsuit claims had investigated more than 150 “expressions of bias” since April 2017, responding to complaints by removing flyers and posters, erasing whiteboards and investigating students and professors for their remarks.

In its court filing, the University of Michigan said the Bias Response Team does not actually “investigate reports of bias or make findings about whether any misconduct has occurred. The BRT process is entirely educational and supportive — and purely voluntary.”

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