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Bias Reporting Systems: How Colleges Track (Mis)conduct

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More than 1,300 universities now use the Maxient system to track and report on student behavior, giving colleges the ability to create online reporting forms and keep records regarding student conduct. As the company’s website says, “Whether it’s student discipline, academic integrity, care and concern records, Title IX matters, or just ‘FYI’, Maxient’s Conduct Manager has you covered for all things related to a student’s conduct and well-being.” With over 4,000 Universities in the U.S., that’s roughly a 1 in 3 chance your school is keeping an eye on you.

How Does Bias Reporting Affect You?

The Maxient system is one piece of colleges’ increased use of bias reporting systems, which colleges use to manage and address student behavior believed to demonstrate bias. Maxient states it receives roughly 7,000 reports daily from schools all across the country. As the Washington Times noted, “Students are often unaware that negative reports have been filed on them, and constitutional due process protections are ignored at many colleges […] A negative report, even on based on false information, can result in losing a scholarship or even being expelled – negatively affecting his or her life.” )

How Does Bias Reporting Work?

Through anonymous student reporting tools, bias reporting systems allow students to anonymously report on classmates or professors they believe showed discrimination or bias. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, “The system defaults to anonymous reporting, and most students file that way. They use an online form to describe how the bias was demonstrated, which triggers an inquiry within 48 hours. Both parties are contacted. Participation in the inquiry is voluntary. But it may not feel that way to accused students.”

Examples of Bias Reporting

Bias reports can take interesting forms. Examples that have gained recent attention include: a University of Northern Iowa report over a campus event celebrating peanuts; a Louisiana State University report based on a student calling sorority members “cattle;” a report against a lesbian-exclusive crafting group at the University of Michigan; and a report of bias for a student calling a fellow Portland State student “schizophrenic”.

Free Speech Concerns

Student and faculty are pushing back against student bias reporting tools, alleging the reporting systems threaten free speech and intellectual inquiry, are highly subjective and based on individual ideology, and have a high potential for abuse. A group of Stanford University professors recently advocated to end the system, and the tools have come under fire at places such as Brown University, Bryant University, and University of Rhode Island.

In February of 2022, a federal appeals court unanimously ruled that discriminatory-harassment and bias response policies at the University of Central Florida violated the First Amendment, calling the policy, “An overbroad and content- and viewpoint-based regulation of constitutionally protected expression. Similar challenges to bias reporting systems at University of Texas and The University of Michigan led to the change or removal of the systems. A 2019 Oregon State University review of its bias reporting system found that the system itself was biased against women.

Know Your Rights

An accusation of bias is a serious matter that can threaten a student’s academic and professional future and should not be ignored or taken lightly.

If you believe you have been wrongfully accused of discrimination or harassment through a bias report, you have options to fight it. Regardless of the truth of the allegation, getting a positive outcome requires approaching the situation calmly, professionally, and with respect for the college’s disciplinary process and the rights of all parties involved.

You may also be concerned about what may be hiding in your disciplinary record. Information stored by bias reporting tools falls under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which means colleges are required to: 1) guarantee students’ access to their records and provide an opportunity to petition for a correction of any information within the record; and 2) maintain the records as confidential and limit their disclosure. This means that if you have been involved in bias reporting incident, you have a right to access all information regarding the accusations and all disciplinary reports in your record.

Specific processes for contesting bias reports vary from college to college, so it’s important to consult your school’s policy manuals for guidance.

Knowing your rights is the first step.

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