FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live): If I don't like your message or feel you're discriminating against me, I could report you. That's the case at hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide, places we often associate as welcoming free speech. It's called bias reporting and institutions you send your children to right here in the Valley have these systems in place. The strength of the herd might be the Bison, but as Valley News Live found there's plenty of bias in Bison country.
With more than 14,000 students studying at NDSU there's bound to be conflict. NDSU students are just part of the estimated 2.8 million across 232 colleges and universities in the U.S. with publicly maintained bias response programs.
It's as simple as a click of a button, you can even report someone anonymously. The NDSU website says this is "an avenue to report incidents of bias, bigotry, or hate that occur on our campus or in off-campus settings." But how can a public institution like NDSU which accepts federal tax dollars paid for by you, have the ‘thought police’ effectively limiting a student's free speech? It's constitutionally protected.
When a report comes in, it's recorded. Then it’s either presented to the bias report response team or investigated by the campus Equity director.
"Yeah I mean if you see something that's perfectly biased towards another group of people and they're not able to get their opinions out, I see it as perfectly acceptable," said student, Jonathan Vollmer.
Few students Valley News Live talked with knew about the system even though information is readily available online. So how do students feel about paying for this?
"I feel like any student should just be able to say what they think and not have to be like afraid of being tattled on," said student Kiersten Meester. "We're all adults so it’s kind of odd that that's a thing."
"I do think free speech is really important but if it's like offensive to someone or directly targeting them I think it's important to have that," said student Jamie Simenson.
We wanted to find out what types of incidents were being reported here at NDSU. Some of these from the last three years will probably surprise you.
There’s a professor who allegedly called a student who was a veteran a ‘war monger’. A group was protesting abortion on campus and equated the practice to Nazi genocide. Also reported were dorm building whiteboard drawings with homosexual and racial slurs, a bookstore employee wore a Halloween costume that someone found insensitive, the official NDSU song was reported for lyrics referring to the “red man”, and a residence life Super Bowl poster was reported for saying people should show up “ ‘cause you’re American”.
Valley News Live found that in many incidents involving professors, faculty or campus employees, the investigating was often done by the department chair or direct supervisor. In many situations, allegations brought by students were simply found to have no merit and the case was dropped, especially if it was reported anonymously. That’s despite someone on campus finding it important enough to report it to the administration. And out of those 14,000 students, Valley News Live obtained hundreds of pages detailing bias, hate speech, bigotry and discrimination that some person felt important enough to report.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education also reports Valley City State University and the University of Minnesota, twin cities campus as having bias reporting systems in place.
Click the links for more information.