Speech First agrees to settle lawsuit over ‘free speech’ at U-M


The University of Michigan and Speech First Inc. have agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by Speech First alleging the university’s policy against harassment and bullying at that time and its then-existing Bias Response Team infringe on the constitutional free speech rights of students.

The suit was filed in May 2018 on behalf of three anonymous students by the advocacy group Speech First. The agreement was signed Oct. 24-25.

The agreement says both parties agree that it is “in their mutual interest to amicably resolve all issues between them.” The lawsuit is being dismissed with no finding that university policies infringed on free speech rights. There are no payments involved in the settlement, and both U-M and Speech First will bear all of their own legal fees and expenses.

The lawsuit alleged the university adopted policies, including its Bias Response Team, that chilled the expression of conservative political views on the Ann Arbor campus.

This settlement makes it “abundantly clear” the lawsuit was unnecessary, said Rick Fitzgerald, U-M spokesperson.

Fitzgerald says the university reaffirms its long-standing commitment to the protection of free speech by all members of the U-M community, including the anonymous students represented by Speech First.

“Vigorous debate on all sides of an issue has been a hallmark of this campus before and during the lawsuit. We have confidence that true diversity of thought will continue to flourish on our campus.”

According to the document, U-M agrees that the definitions of “bullying” and “harassing” that were being updated before the lawsuit was filed and were put in place June 11, 2018, will remain in place and will not be replaced by the previous, removed definitions. Speech First agrees that these definitions, which are consistent with Michigan state law, are acceptable.

Since the time the lawsuit was filed, U-M has replaced its Bias Response Team with a Campus Climate Support program. Although there was nothing impermissible about the Bias Response team, the university agreed that it would not reinstate the Bias Response Team.

Campus Climate Support works to ensure that appropriate university resources and expertise are made available to students, faculty and staff. The settlement agreement does not prevent university staff members from reaching out to students or student groups for any reason deemed appropriate.

Like the Bias Response Team it replaced, the Campus Climate Support effort is not a disciplinary body and participation is voluntary.

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