The Senate Task Force on the Bias Response Team

The Senate has formed the Task Force on the Bias Response Team.  There are available seats for representatives chosen by ASUO and the GTFF.

Read co–chair Chris Chavez’s letter:
Dear Senators-

I want to give you an update on the BRT task force. The charge of the Senate’s Task Force on the Bias Response Team is this:

National coverage of UO’s Bias Response Team (BRT) and similar efforts aimed at reducing campus bias have raised some concerns regarding the potential for negative effects on free and open classroom discussions. This task force is to assess the material and perceived impact of the BRT on faculty, student, and staff interactions, with a focus on the impact of the BRT on academic matters. The task force will first gather information about the BRT’s operations, including record-keeping. Then, based on the findings of this research and input from the Senate and the University community, the task force will work with the UO administration to ensure that the BRT functions so as to encourage both academic freedom and inclusivity.

The Task Force is chaired by Chris Chavez (Journalism) and Chris Sinclair (Math and Senate VP). The membership includes Rich Margerum (PPPM), Ofer Raban (Law) and Theodora Thompson (Classified staff in Admissions, and SEIU local President). There will be a few other members, including a student, who have yet to be appointed. The committee is advisory to the Senate, and will follow the Senate’s open meetings rules.

At the J-School town hall earlier this month VP Robin Holmes announced that she was reviewing the BRT and expected to make some changes. However I think it’s important that the Senate take the lead on this, and that we should do so with full knowledge of what the BRT does.
It’s to the credit of BRT coordinator Maure Smith-Benanti that her 2014-15 report on how the BRT tries to reduce biased behavior and language is one of the more transparent documents I’ve seen come out of the UO administration, and I’m optimistic that the BRT and VP Holmes’s office will share more with us. (See the BRT website and report at https://uodos.uoregon.edu/Programs/Bias-Response-Team/Annual-Reports.)
I expect that the task force will be able to collect some information over the summer and update the Senate on that information by early fall. If you have any information on the BRT I encourage you to email Chris Chavez and Chris Sinclair, at csinclai@uoregon.edu and cchavez4@uoregon.edu.

5 thoughts on “The Senate Task Force on the Bias Response Team”

    1. President of the University of Northern Colorado decides Bias Response Team harms academic freedom.

      Personally I don’t think it’s bad for universities to teach about how free speech can offend, but it’s not the sort of thing that the faculty should leave up to the administration to police.

      https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2016/09/09/u-northern-colorado-will-abandon-bias-unit

      The University of Northern Colorado has announced that it is abandoning its separate bias response team and plans to deal with bias concerns through other university divisions. Many colleges have created bias response teams, but Northern Colorado’s has been criticized for raising questions about the actions and statements of faculty members and students in class — and many have expressed fears that the work of the team compromised academic freedom.

      Kay Norton, president of the university, addressed the topic in her annual fall address to the campus. “Our new approach will uphold the principles of free speech and academic freedom as well as our commitment to create a safe and supportive environment for students. It will address all student concerns not covered by the Discrimination Complaint Procedures, and we will no longer have a separate process for bias-related concerns,” she said. “Free speech and academic freedom fuel the ferment of ideas, insights and discoveries that emerge from university communities, and we must do all we can to encourage this ferment. We have an ongoing obligation to talk openly about the inherent tension between upholding academic freedom and building community. These are hard conversations, but this tension is what allows us to be a university community.”

  1. I look forward to a good discussion on this committee.
    –Rich Margerum, PPPM Department

    For balance the same publication notes:
    “There has clearly been an increase in campuses creating both bias response teams in addition to a more clearly defined process for how members of the campus community can report an incident of bias,” Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, said. “These bias response protocols have been created to give students a clear pathway to report their experience of an incident of bias or hate crime. As campuses work towards creating inclusive communities, it is important for there to be defined ways to report an incident.”

    Commonly called bias assessment and response teams, or BARTs, these teams of administrators have been around at some colleges for decades. Ohio State created its BART in 1996, and for many colleges it remains the go-to model.

    https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/09/12/despite-recent-criticism-college-officials-say-bias-response-teams-fill-important

  2. Seems like a solvable problem: A BERT that supports victims of bias and perceived bias, educates university constituencies when incidents of explicit or implicit bias occur but also educates individuals on academic freedom and how it protects instructors and researchers when they teach/research controversial or challenging subjects.

  3. I like this statement from FIRE, approving of UW-Madison’s policy on biased speech. Fire’s post is here: https://www.thefire.org/uw-madison-demonstrates-what-a-green-light-definition-of-a-bias-incident-looks-like/

    An extract:

    Definition of bias and hate: Single or multiple acts toward an individual, group, or their property that are so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that they create an unreasonably intimidating, hostile, or offensive work, learning, or program environment, and that one could reasonably conclude are based upon actual or perceived age, race, color, creed, religion, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, national origin, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, political affiliation, marital status, spirituality, cultural, socio-economic status, or any combination of these or other related factors.

    If this standard sounds familiar to FIRE followers, that’s because it closely tracks the Supreme Court’s controlling standard for student-on-student (or peer) hostile environment harassment in the educational setting. That standard comes from Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, 526 U.S. 629, 651 (1999), where the Court held that peer harassment is unwelcome, discriminatory conduct that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.”

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