Iowa State University late last year reformed its bias response team protocols to no longer contact or meet with students who are reported to it for allegedly committing acts of bias.
But why? The motive remains unclear, but Iowa State initiated the restructuring of its campus bias response team at the same time The College Fix was investigating bias complaints filed with the university, according to recent court and university documents.
In mid-November, The College Fix provided copies of the bias reports filed with the Campus Climate Response Team that it had obtained to Speech First, a pro-free speech organization.
On January 2, 2020, Speech First sued Iowa State for allegedly infringing on students’ free speech rights regarding a variety of matters, including the school’s policy banning political chalking and emails and also citing concerns with its bias response team.
Speech First had argued that the Campus Climate Response Team chilled speech on campus, as students and faculty who made statements deemed “biased” were contacted by diversity counselors and investigated for exercising their right to free speech.
On March 12, Iowa State settled a lawsuit brought by Speech First, but claimed in court documents it had amended its bias response team protocols months before the lawsuit was filed. According to the settlement document, Iowa State replaced the Campus Climate Response Team in October 2019 with the renamed “Campus Climate Reporting System.”
“This was not a change in name only,” the settlement reads. “For example, unlike the CCRT, the CCRS does not contact or meet with students who are reported to it. The University will not reinstate CCRT, but is free to continue with the CCRS as it has operated since October 2019, prior to the filing of this Action.”
That timing suggests Iowa State decided to reform its bias response team after The College Fix filed a public records act request with the institution asking for copies of bias reports.
The College Fix request was sent in on September 30. It sought a copy of all the complaints generated by Iowa State University’s campus climate team website between August 1, 2018 and July 1, 2019. On October 28, The Fix received the documents.
On November 5, The Fix e-mailed Iowa State spokeswoman Angela Hunt seeking comment for a story about the bias response documents set to run in the next few days. The next day, Hunt answered questions posed by The Fix, still referring to the system as the Campus Climate Response Team.
When The Fix asked Hunt what happens when a complaint is made, she did not rule out contacting students, saying “Reports through the website are referred to the appropriate partner who will determine what, if any, next steps will be taken by their administrative unit.”
Hunt did not respond to a request to comment for this story.
The Fix story detailing the reports filed with the Iowa State Climate Response Team was posted on November 8. According to university documents, the name of the Campus Climate Response Team was changed to the Campus Climate Reporting System on the same day – not in October, as the settlement suggests.
A week later, The Fix provided Speech First with copies of the complaints it had obtained.
According to the settlement, Iowa State will also cease programs that banned students from sending emails, chalking on campus, and expressing other public messaging in support of political candidates on campus.
At the time of the settlement, Iowa State president Wendy Wintersteen issued a statement claiming “allegations of suppression” made by Speech First in the lawsuit were “simply not true.”