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IOWA CITY - Nearly two years ago, in response to some minority students' description of the University of Iowa campus as unsafe and uncomfortable, the UI Chief Diversity Office announced plans to form a team to respond to complaints of bias.
The university had a protocol for student-filed bias complaints, but UI Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice President Georgina Dodge at the time said a new team - which would include students - could give victims and campus constituents more tools, like education and mediation.
In January 2016, administrators said they would have a formal Bias Assessment and Response Team in place by the end of the semester. In May 2016, UI officials said they would launch the team in the fall.
WHAT'S HAPPENED SINCE
Just as UI students in August were returning to campus for the new academic year, Dodge confirmed the university was dropping its plan for the bias response team. Instead, the university has launched a new informal 'Campus Inclusion Team” aimed at providing support, resources and other tools for students with concerns of racial, ethnic, gender, intellectual, political and religious bias.
Dodge said the UI abandoned its plans for a formal bias response team due to concerns that similar campus teams around the country were negatively affecting academic freedom and free speech. UI officials decided a 'sounding-board” approach would be better, according to a recent news release.
The new team, which will be dually housed in the Student Care and Assistance Office and the Center for Diversity and Enrichment, will give students a place to bring concerns and work with professionals to identify problems and craft a response plan.
Being an informal group, the team can't investigate complaints or concerns and can't discipline or issue punishments, according to the university. If an issue potentially violates UI policy or constitutes a crime, team members will refer the student to the appropriate office.
Dean of Students Lyn Redington said the goal is to preserve free speech and the exchange of ideas while acknowledging that comes with the risk of offending.
Like the administration, some faculty members had reservations about a bias response team in part because of potential impacts on teaching material and classroom discussion of controversial topics.
UI law professor Christina Bohannan, past president of the UI Faculty Senate and current chair of the senate's committee on academic values, said her colleagues are more supportive of the informal inclusion team.
Faculty and students should not fear reprimand for sharing their perspectives or teaching on historical, but controversial, topics, she said.
'These events happened, and our faculty need to be able to talk about them,” she said in a statement. 'They need to be able to get students to think about issues from across the entire political and ideological spectrum. That's teaching. That's what we should do all the time.”
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