Admin defends Bias Reporting System to critics

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October 30, 2007

2:22 AM

A new system at the College that allows members of the community to anonymously report incidents of bias has come under fire, primarily from conservative news sites and blogs.

p. The Bias Reporting System was created several weeks ago by the College Diversity Committee and exists “to assist members of the William and Mary community who have been affected by incidents involving bias related to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or other protected conditions.”

p. Sam Sadler, vice president for student affairs and co-chair of the Bias Reporting Team, said that “showing a willingness to look at issues is the best way I know to let people know that the community cares. I think it’s really the ultimate statement of community.”

p. Critics worry that the system is open to abuse because it allows anonymous reports. A full-page ad in The Flat Hat last week, paid for by FreeAmericasAlmaMater.org, brings up the possibility that students could make up allegations to get back at professors who gave them a bad grade or significant others who had broken up with them.

p. Although students may leave complaints without giving their name even to the administration, the bias reporting website says that students must leave their name if they want their complaint to be explored.

p. College administrators say that there is little need for concern. “Personally, I don’t think we would take any action unless we knew who filed the report,” Sadler said.

p. “[We’re saying,] if you want to tell us about something, do it. It can give [us] a gauge of the tenor of this College. Is it useful beyond that? No.”

p. Sadler added that the current wording on the website about how to react to unnamed complaints may be a little unclear.

p. In response to those who say that the system gives too much discretion to the administration, Sadler pointed out that some level of trust in the administration would be necessary for anything to happen.

p. “It seems to me that at a college like William and Mary, the students, administrators and faculty make pretty sound judgments most of the time,” he said.

p. Blogs such as instapundit.com, which get over a million visitors a week, have posted on the issue.

p. “I’ve heard of speech codes, but I’ve never heard of anything quite like this,” National Review Online columnist Stanley Kurtz wrote in his post titled “East Germany Hits Virginia.”

p. Kurtz does not agree with Sadler’s assessment of the competency of College administrators.

p.“Given this history of administrative conduct (or misconduct) those who do not share President Nichols’ views on what constitutes bias in the matter of the Wren Cross episode — and beyond — seem to me to have a very real basis for fearing abuse of the new Bias Reporting System,” he wrote in a post yesterday.

p. Brian Whitson, director of news services at the College, said that many other colleges have nearly identical reporting systems.
The list includes the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Georgetown University, Cornell and the University of Wisconsin in Madsion, among others.

p. Concerns about free speech also arose at many of those colleges when the systems were first implemented, and parallels to Orwell’s 1984 were also drawn.

p. There were 64 bias reports filed at the University of Virginia in 2006, according to a column in the Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper.

p. Sadler said that the decision to institute the Bias Reporting System was made by the Diversity Committee at the College, and that it was not prompted by any particular incident.

p. He added that the committee looked at the systems in place at other schools when designing one for the College.

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