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Main quadrangle of Stanford with Memorial Church in the center background. (Photo: King of Hearts / Wikimedia Commons)

Stanford Univ. Anonymous Bias Reporting System Like ‘Something out of the Soviet Union and China’

‘The process aims to promote a climate of respect’

By Evan Gahr, March 4, 2023 8:00 am

Stanford University’s system for students anonymously reporting alleged bias incidents is under attack by some of the school’s professors.

Two professors at the elite school told the California Globe that the system threatens free speech and is reminiscent of McCarthyism because of the haphazard way anonymous allegations are made without any evidence.

Stanford accounting professor Ivan Marinovic likens the anonymous reporting system to something out of the Soviet Union and China. He told the California Globe that “Anonymous reporting systems are reminiscent of some of the worst periods in human history” and this system, however well-intentioned, “will harm Stanford’s culture.”

“Anonymous reporting promotes some of the lowest tendencies of human beings, not precisely inclusion:  i) It advances the notion that we live in a jungle full of predators ii)  it encourages students to become purity vigilantes iii) it provides a low cost tool for cowardly and resentful people to attack their ideological opponents’ reputation behind their backs iv) it creates a chilling effect in the classroom where people feel permanently observed and morally judged.”

Moreover, “This system is also not ideologically neutral; it is built around an ideology and might become the basis for a social credit system on campus.

Stanford comparative literature professor Russell Berman made similar criticism in an email to the California Globe. He said the anonymous reporting system is reminiscent of McCarthyism “because it encourages anonymous denunciations, directed at any members of the university community—students, staff, and faculty—who have limited or no opportunity to defend themselves, since the accusers are unnamed.”

The system caught the attention of professors last month when one student made headlines for reporting another for committing an act of bias simply because she was reading Adolf Hitler’s manifesto, Mein Kampf. Under the system students can also report faculty of University staff.

The Stanford website says its bias reporting system is “the University’s process to address incidents where a community member experiences harm because of who they are and how they show up in the world.”

The system is entirely subjective. It doesn’t seem that any evidence is needed to make a complaint. Students can report what the school calls a Protected Identity Harm Incident. This is defined as “conduct or an incident that adversely and unfairly targets an individual or group on the basis of one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics: race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, veteran status, marital status or any other characteristic protected by applicable law.”

This broad definition encompasses what could just be robust debate. So a student who says that black students who benefit from affirmative action could be accused of targeting a “group” “on the basis of race.”

After an incident is reported the University contacts both the complaining student and alleged offender in an attempt at mediation. Participation in the process is supposedly voluntary.  However, as Stanford University engineering professor Juan Santiago told the Wall Street Journal, this kind of voluntary mechanism can actually be coercive.

“If you’re an 18-year-old freshman and you get contacted by an administrator and told you’ve been accused of some transgression, what are you going to do?’ he asked rhetorically.’”They may not call that punitive, but that can be very stressful.”

Santiago did not respond to request for comment from the California Globe.

The snitch system at Stanford had been in place since 2021. It uses software from a company called Maxient that says it is being used at more than 1300 colleges and universities, including the University of California system.

For the 2021-2022 school year the University of California bias reporting system reported what it called 457 “acts of intolerance of hate.” But 300 of them involved merely using offensive speech, which is Constitutionally protected.

Speech is not action.

The University of California said the offensive speech that it calls acts of intolerance or hate involved “gestures, taunts, mockery, unwanted jokes or teasing and derogatory or disparaging comments of a biased nature.”

Elsewhere these kind of bias reporting systems have been successfully challenged in court on First Amendment grounds. Over the last few years  lawsuits filed by the free speech activist group Speech First against the University of Michigan, University of Texas and the University of Central Florida led the schools to dismantle their bias reporting systems.

And this January Speech First filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the University of Oklahoma with three conservative students as plaintiffs. The students worry that because they are opposed to abortion, gay marriage  and Black Lives Matter they will be reported to the bias reporting system if they express their views openly.

But the Stanford and University of California systems have not been challenged in court thus far.

Stanford spokeswoman Dee Mostofi did not reply to a request for comment. But she told the Wall Street Journal that the bias reporting system helps promote campus harmony.

“The process aims to promote a climate of respect, helping build understanding that much speech is protected while also offering resources and support to students who believe they have experienced harm based on a protected identity,” she contended.

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4 thoughts on “Stanford Univ. Anonymous Bias Reporting System Like ‘Something out of the Soviet Union and China’

  1. It’s not surprising that Stanford University has a bias anonymous reporting system to something out of the Soviet Union and China. Sadly, Standford has become just another oppressive Marxist indoctrination center full of Marxists. Parents would do best for their kids by sending them to a trade school instead.

  2. Dr. Frankenstein creates monster. Monster attacks the “good” Dr. Dr. then snivels that his creation has turned on him.

    Cue up the worlds smallest violin.

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