Syracuse University Warns Students That They May Be Punished For Not Acting To Confront “Bias Motivated” Speech or Conduct

downloadThe law has always drawn a line between malfeasance and nonfeasance in considering unlawful acts, but Syracuse University is about to eradicate any real distinction in newly proposed rules by Professor Keith Alford, the university first diversity and inclusion officer. Under the new rules, students would be punished for simply witnessing “bias-motivated” incidents and “acts of hate.” The change was demanded by the #NotAgainSU which demanded expulsion for “individuals who witnessed the event or were present, but did not take part.”

Alford sent an email warning that students:

“The Code of Student Conduct has been revised, based on your input, to state that violations of the code that are bias-motivated—including conduct motivated by racism—will be punished more severely. The University also revised the code to make clear when bystanders and accomplices can be held accountable. The code will be prepared and distributed for students to sign in the fall.”

It does not go as far as the student group demanded in requiring expulsion, the rule also does not clearly state how silence or inaction will be judged in any given circumstance. It appears left up to the investigators. That uncertainty will prompt many to guarantee compliance by speaking or acting to avoid even the chance that they might be subjected to a highly damaging bias charge.  The school also warned that new cameras were being installed in “first-floor lounges,” “public areas,” and within residency hall elevators. Thus, any student who failed to immediately act would be observed and presumably at risk of being investigated or charged under the new rule.

Courts have long distinguished between malfeasancemisfeasance, and nonfeasance. In Bell v. Josselyn, 69 Mass. (3 Gray) 309, 311 (1855),  the court explained “Nonfeasance is the omission of an act which a person ought to do; misfeasance is the improper doing of an act which a person might lawfully do; and malfeasance is the doing of an act which a person ought not to do at all.”).  This distinction can be lost in some cases like corporate law or prosecutorial ethics where duties come with a duty to act in a particular fashion.

The concern raised by the Syracuse rule is that there remains controversies over vague universities standards on bias or race motivated violations including microaggressive language or actions.  Recently, a student writer at Syracuse was sacked for simply questioning the basis for claims of institutional racism. What is viewed as bias-motivated speech for some is viewed as political speech by others. The new rule would suggest that even students who do not agree that an incident is “bias-motivated” must still act to avoid scrutiny or punishment. Students could feel an obligation to prove that they are not racist by immediately and openly opposing such acts, lest they could be next to be accused.

Given the rising concerns over the erosion of free speech on our campuses, the punishing of students for nonfeasance for merely being witnesses or passive adds a new chilling element to speech. It is not just silencing those who now fear expressing their views on campus. It would now require speech and action to avoid possible discipline.  For those students, the new rule creates a “prove you are not a racist” (or biased) burden.

The Supreme Court has long treated compelled speech cases as some of the most serious denials of free speech. In West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), Jehovah’s Witness family challenged the mandatory Pledge of Allegiance. The Supreme Court struck down the rule as a denial of the students’ “freedom of mind” by forcing them to “declare a belief.” It stressed:

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

The Court has repeatedly overturned compelled symbols or speech that “invade[] the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control.”  Minersville District v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586, 642 (1940).

While nonfeasance penalties may find acceptability in some legal areas, it has long been anathema to free speech.  While Syracuse should be commended for seeking to strengthen its policies and programs fighting racism and other forms of bias, it should rescind this form of nonfeasant misconduct.

101 thoughts on “Syracuse University Warns Students That They May Be Punished For Not Acting To Confront “Bias Motivated” Speech or Conduct”

  1. So, now mind-reading of fellow students to guess motive is part of the judicial process? These are supposedly educated people…but the kids driving the new policies are naive idealists of the worst ilk. They lack real-world experience. I guess they’ll have to discover the hard way how easily they can be accused under such a subjective standard.

  2. A similar approach has been promulgated in industry for more than a decade. If you saw objectionable behavior and did not report t, you were culpable. Now the behavior type and degree has always been a sliding scale and suject to insetion of new categories at the whim of the experts, meaning those that asserted they knew and other poor benighted souls were just ignorant of the truths they held to be self-evident. Its analogous to being incidentally present at the site and time of a riot (when riots and destruction were viewed for the evil they are) and being swept up by authorities for not being somewhere else. I guess this is what the far left would call a replacement for formal government hired security. Self law and rule enforcement. We will force you to enforce for no pay.

    1. But the burden on students is to know, fathom, understand, suspect, divine, etc. the “motivation.” FOOLS all at these places of “higher” “learning.”

  3. Sooner or later all this is going to blow up! What would be the appropriate response to whatever incident was deemed to be ‘ racist ‘ ? ( does this extend to ‘ sexist ‘ ? ) Will there be a list of offenses posted? One could envision a ‘ truth squad ‘ of thugs patrolling the grounds, compelled to rough up offenders . . . .

    1. This (university) and others are now only concerned about race! Would the powers that be find harassment of a Jewish student because of her/his religion objectionable? Of course not. of a woman because of her sex in a majority male class? Of course not? of a man in a “woman’s study” class? Of course not! It’s all about this nonsense promoted by (Only) Black Lives Matter (Sometimes): white privilege explains all ills in the USA.

    2. “One could envision a ‘ truth squad ‘ of thugs patrolling the grounds, compelled to rough up offenders.”

      Yup. Like the Syracuse University version of the Iranian Basij.

  4. Kind of amazing how these so called centers of “higher Learning” are filled with Dictator wannabe’s dictating what you say, think, even feel. Sounds like “1984” come to life.

    1. Actually what they’re filled with is people who fancy society as a whole replicates the social relations of a suburban high school. They think the judiciary and the administrative state are the school administration and elected officials are just the student council and have as much discretion as the administration allows them. They also fancy dissent is classroom disruption. School administration is an occupation that’s shot through with fatuous martinets rather like the administrators trying to assess penalties on him.

  5. With all the cameras it shouldn’t be too hard to catch all these active racists, they seem to be more than happy to play for the media every night from Portland to New York.

  6. Seinfeld’s “Good Samaritan” is upon us. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPnK0NCn_MQ

    Isn’t this an encouragement to vigilantism?
    What if a group of people witness an ‘act’ but got it wrong and hurt, maimed, or killed someone?
    For those that think a mob action can’t possibly happen incorrectly, what would have happened to Nicholas Sandmann with the Indian?

    1. Outstanding video from one of the old Seinfeld episodes. A must see to put this syracuse “university” nonsense in perspective.. Thanks!

  7. Paris in the Middle Ages had three somewhat distinct societies, each governed by themselves. The area around the Louvre and Orsay was that of nobility and the monarchs. The area around Le Marais and Les Halles was the domain of commerce. The Left Bank and Sorbonne was the domain of the university or academics. There were elements of each scattered about in Hotels or urban estates throughout Paris but these were areas that had been what they had been for centuries. Each area policed itself and rendered its own justice, including hangings. The monarchs had overall control in issues that concerned national security but locally there were three distinct judicial systems. Perhaps Syracuse U should advocate for this system and then they could really go to town on those who ‘differ’. Alford could preside at the first whipping or hanging. The cloistered academic world generates its own power struggles. One of the key elements of power is being more extreme than the next guy. Extreme is extreme. There is nothing liberal or progressive about this nonsense.

  8. White students can be called racist based on nothing but their skin color. If they defend themselves, that’s further evidence of their racism and they can be brought up on charges by the university, along with disbelieving bystanders that didn’t join the chorus of accusations in a timely manner.

    If that’s not fascism, then what is?

  9. While Syracuse should be commended for seeking to strengthen its policies and programs fighting racism and other forms of bias,

    No it shouldn’t. These are pseudo-problems and the people hired to work in them are zero-marginal-product employees who add to costs and promote rancid institutional ideologies.

    Thomas Sowell once penned a column about a woman who wrote to him about his pioneer status at the institutions he attended and how did he endure all the racism to be found on campus ca. 1955. His reply to her was that the first black man to receive a diploma from said institution had graduated from it more than 80 before he’d matriculated and that the only racial slurs he’d heard in college and graduate school were the ones he’d uttered himself.

  10. It’s time to proclaim that Progressives/Liberals/Democrats/anyone supporting these people are DISGUSTING. He is a threat to civil society. I want to see this professor arrested for witnessing all of the liberal BLM violence on our cities, witnessing the destruction and hatred for businesses and citizens, not intervening in the hatred and violence (and feces/weapons, etc) used against police across the nation. This professor deserves to be punished (maybe carted to the guillotine.) He’s a hater and a destroyer of not only people and property but the minds of our youth. DISGUSTING.

  11. (music to tune of Birmingham)
    Syracuse. Can’t excuse.
    Greatest city in Alabama!
    Clear across this entire land…
    There ain’t no place like Syracuse!

    Had a prof. Had an enema.
    Earned my living with my hands.
    I was a cleaner in a cathouse in..
    Downtown Syracuse

    1. (music)
      Had a WOP! In my family.
      He stiffled others and was a Sammy.
      He worked the the Mafia in..
      Downtown Syracuse!

  12. It will come as no surprise that Prof. Alford’s appointment is in the School of Social Work. If there be two ‘professions’ which merit being formally dismantled – their licensing boards abolished, their training programs abolished, their work parceled out to people in other trades – they would be social work and library administration. The hooey incorporated into official librarianship is strictly intramural and has almost impact on the public. Social workers do real damage with their limited skill set and their stupid professional ideology.

    Note, though, that there’s a chain of command here from Prof. Alford to an intervening VP to the President of the University to the Trustees. All of them are responsible for this travesty and should be held accountable. If the trustees were worth anything (and they seldom are), the University President would be called in, given a grilling, and told to fix this sh!t or find another job.

    Note, the board of Adelphi University was deposed and replaced by court order in 1997. There were likely defensible and indefensible reasons for that. It’s a remedy that should be applied much more often than it is.

    1. I would put the Education departments right at the top because they are heavily infested with critical theory and their graduates are very influential in society.

      1. Teaching is an actual profession, so, no you cannot dismantle it. You should shut down the teachers’ colleges and start new ones, because the teachers’ colleges today are quite hopeless and they diminish the quality of the teacher pool. The knew ones would be staffed with people who know something about tests-and-measurements psychology and about practical teaching methods. Full stop. Training administrators can be done in public administration programs.

  13. It appears Prof. Alford needs a refresher course in writing. But I suppose he is too busy looking for behaviors that ought to be punished. Why would any person want to take a job with the title, “diversity an inclusion officer”? Ah, Syracuse perhaps wanted diversity on its staff, and so it created a position that best suits Professor Keith Alford!

    1. Ah, Syracuse perhaps wanted diversity on its staff, and so it created a position that best suits Professor Keith Alford!

      It is de rigeur now. Ca. 2003, I knew a fellow who slid sideways into the diversity apparat when it looked like he wasn’t going to get tenure. I quite liked him personally and doubt he’s ever been inclined to be an institutional Torquemada. If we had a sensible job market in academe, he’d have been hired by an institution which was a satisfactory fit for him and he’d still be teaching criminology instead of pestering units of his institution into hiring more minorities.

      1. “If we had a sensible job market in academe”

        Good point, and it’s one of the fundamental flaws of the system – there are no healthy market dynamics in an institution that doesn’t produce anything valuable enough to sustain itself.

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