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Edgewood College Faculty Surveyed on Free Speech as Part of Investigation


BY ON THE EDGE STAFF | PHOTO BY ALEX THOMAS

In the latest development in the controversy surrounding Edgewood College’s hate speech policy, Edgewood College faculty have been asked to complete a survey on free speech.

After a Faculty Association meeting April 24, Bonnie Sierlecki, assistant professor of communication studies at Edgewood College, emailed faculty a survey. In the email, she said President Scott Flanagan had appointed Tony Chambers, dean of students and vice president of student development, to examine current policies. There is the potential for “clarifying/modifying/adding to those policies,” said Sierlecki in the e-mail.

This summer, Edgewood College is expected to clarify its policy regarding hate speech, including posts on students’ personal social media accounts, Flanagan said last month.

An incident over the college’s 2017 spring break sparked the controversy. An anonymous student reported that a captioned social media photo contained a racial slur. An investigation resulted, and, in late March, Chambers said the student who posted the caption faces consequences as severe as expulsion.

“We are convening right now a group to take a look at free expression,” said Flanagan last month. “We are not the only campus that is having conversations like this. . . . I expect there will be a group convening in the next few weeks that will have some suggestions to me by about mid-summer.”

Flanagan said there may not be a perfect answer. “But the clearer we can get, the better off we are going to be.”

Chambers had said that Edgewood College students could not post hate speech on personal social media platforms while on Edgewood sponsored trips. “. . . Free speech does not mean you can say anything anywhere,” Chambers said in an interview on March 28.

The policy in The Edgewood College Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook is not transparent, and questions have arisen since Chambers declined to offer most details about the incident, the investigation, and the investigation process.

Flanagan said that the details should not be shared, so that the students’ identity is protected.

“I’m not sure if I want the three people to have their names known publicly,” said Flanagan. “I know there’s a lot of wiggle room within the policy, but there’s a policy that exists for allegations of student conduct and that’s the one that gets followed.”

“We want to not only protect the privacies of the students, but also to make sure that the folks that are engaged in the (investigative) process can do their job without being either lobbied during the process or facing public repercussions afterwards.”

Chambers has formed a committee to review issues to establish policies that are communicated clearly to students, faculty, and staff by the start of the fall semester.

Sierlecki said in her email that she would advocate for the creation of a single-page policy guide for faculty—she said it would be “handy (to have a list of resources) in one place.”

Survey questions include:

  • As a faculty member, do you know what the free speech policy is for your classroom?
  • Do you feel comfortable establishing and enforcing discussion/expression standards for your classroom?
  • Areyou aware of the College’s current policy on “hate speech,” as defined by the Student Code of Conduct?
  • Keeping in mind that we want to uphold the Edgewood College values while also providing students with a robust educational environment where ideas can be exchanged, what issues regarding campus speech most concern you?

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