To the editor:
A couple of weeks ago, the Journal-World ran an article on the Kansas University Human Relations Committee's proposal that the university commit itself to the principle of equal opportunity as fervently as it has committed itself to the right to free speech. A subsequent editorial seemed to misinterpret this proposal as an effort to limit free speech. The editorial asked where one would draw the line between tolerable and intolerable speech and who might be deemed wise enough to draw such a line. This questions reflects a lack of familiarity with university policy that has led to a serious misunderstanding.
In fact, university codes already prohibit speech that constitutes harassment or intimidation based on race, religion, ethnicity or national origin (KU Student Handbook, page 18). KU grievance procedures allow an aggrieved individual to file a complaint that, if not resolved through mediation, would be heard by the Discrimination Hearing Board. The DHB is a panel of peers, nominated by campus leaders and selected by the executive vice chancellor. It is the DHB which would determine whether or not a specific incident involving abusive speech had caused harm sufficient to warrant redress. Finally, there are procedures for appealing a DHB decision which vary with the status of the individual making an appeal.
The editorial referred to problems involving "crude, insensitive, vulgar, demeaning and hateful" speech. Crude, insensitive and vulgar language is to be discouraged, but it is protected at KU by the First Amendment. Demeaning and hateful speech, on the other hand, if it is "addressed directly to an individual(s)" may constitute harassment or intimidation and might violate KU's policy on racial and ethnic harassment. The recent HRC proposal would extend that policy to include categories now recognized in our equal opportunity statement, which forbids discrimination on the basis of "race, religion, gender, color, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, political affiliation, marital or parental status, age or veteran status."
The HRC is not "playing games;" we are working hard at the serious business of improving the quality of life for everyone on campus. Our right to free speech is an important one and I appreciate the Journal-World's stauch support of it. However, the 14th Amendment promises equal opportunity. We hope the J-W will join the HRC in supporting this right just as staunchly.
Chair, KU Human