EXCLUSIVE: UMaine operates allegedly unconstitutional reporting system

University of Maine received a legal notice challenging its bias reporting system for being allegedly unconstitutional.

The letter demanded the university rescind the system.

The University of Maine (UMaine) may be operating an unconstitutional on-campus reporting system, Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) claims.

SLF sent a legal demand letter to the Orono campus on Oct. 3 that took aim at its bias reporting system for allegedly violating students’ First Amendment rights, engaging in viewpoint discrimination, and chilling speech.

Campus Reform obtained an exclusive copy of this letter.

[RELATED: Bowling Green State University receives legal directive to disband its bias reporting system]

“We are concerned that the policies infringe on students’ First Amendment rights because they allow officials to discriminate against the content and viewpoint of speech,” the letter reads. 

“The policies also unconstitutionally chill freedom of expression because they allow anyone on campus to report students for perceived bias incidents. As such, we demand that the University revise these unconstitutional policies.”

Kenda Scheele, Associate Vice President for Student Life at UMaine, told Campus Reform that the university received the letter.

We have not yet responded but expect to do so shortly,” she explained.

UMaine’s “Bias Response Team” allows people to anonymously report incidents that could be perceived as biased. Bias incidents are defined as “acts of hate and bias unacceptable and antithetical to [UMaine’s] commitment to an inclusive and respectful community,” reads its website.

The reports are forwarded to a variety of department heads for review, including Acting Deputy Title IX Coordinator and Senior Associate Dean of Students Kenda Scheele, Director of Community Standards, Rights and Responsibilities David Fiacco, and Director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion Anila Karunakar.

"We are concerned about the chilling effect caused by bias reporting systems like the one at the University of Maine. It is especially concerning that complainants can select a particular administrator to review their complaint, meaning students can choose an administrator they think will be most sympathetic to their views," CeCe O'Leary, SLF Attorney, told Campus Reform. "The University has a duty to respect and defend the views of all students on campus, but unfortunately this reporting system gives students and administrators a lot of power to silence conservatives and libertarians." 

[RELATED: Nonprofit drafts model legislation to combat bias report systems]

While SLF demanded the system be disbanded, the legal group argued UMaine must clarify to the public what is considered protected speech and specify that such speech cannot be subjected to investigation or punishment. 

SLF also demanded UMaine link its Freedom of Speech webpage on the reporting system, should it remain active.

“College students are in the unique position of being surrounded by true diversity: diversity of thought, race, religion, and culture. For many, this is the first—and perhaps only— time they will be exposed to a ‘marketplace of ideas’ that differ from their own,” the letter concludes. 

“The college experience can have a significant impact on the leaders of tomorrow. The University of Maine must do its part to ensure this freedom for all its students.”

Campus Reform contacted UMaine, SLF, and every individual mentioned for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.