Task force releases report on controversial Bias Education Response Team

The Bias Education Response Team Task Force has finished its final report, stating concerns and suggestions to improve the controversial office on campus.

The Bias Education Response Team, or BERT — based in the office of the Dean of Students — sparked conversation and national coverage because of its potential negative impact on free speech and academic freedom.

An article in National Review called the UO BERT “even more ridiculous than you’d think,” and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education questioned the impact BERT would have on students’ freedom of speech.

This caused the UO senate to create the BERT Task Force to see what it could do to fix the problems. Chris Chavez, co-chair of the task force, said he hopes the debate of free speech and bias will start conversations in classrooms, but ones where everyone feels like they have the authority or privilege to speak.

“We could find a place where it’s not mutually exclusive — academic freedom and tolerance,” Chavez said. “We could find places where they are actually complementary.”

The Task Force’s report explains some of the issues that it found, such as the office not ensuring privacy. There is duplication of the work they do being done at other campus resources (such as Title IX, the Ombuds Office, and the AAEO) that they use too broad of a definition of bias and that it intervenes in classrooms.

“There is no attempt by the senate or this task force to reduce access to offices where students can report these things or tell their stories — never was that a consideration,” said co-chair Chris Sinclair. “It was always more about how do we ensure that that office is behaving in a uniform way to these reports, but also taking into account academic freedom.”

Sinclair was fascinated to find the different responses that the BERT had to the various complaints it has received.

“I think that really [the report] was worthwhile because it demonstrated that the responses were kind of all over the map; there wasn’t kind of a uniform approach,” Sinclair said.

The report recommends that the BERT educate students on bias-issues and free speech, that they refer students to the correct office if their complaints are not specifically appropriate for the BERT and that they refrain from classroom interaction.

Because there are multiple resources on campus that serve similar roles, Chavez thinks that the role of the BERT should focus primarily on education.

“I think they have accepted the fact that there are probably other resources that are more equipped to handle these kinds of situations,” he said.

Although there are so many resources, both Chavez and Sinclair agree that they all serve an important purpose, including the BERT, and that what is important is making sure they work together and students understand where to go to get help when they experience incidences of bias.

The BERT has been cooperative with the task force by attending meetings, Chavez said. The Task Force will likely be put on a hiatus now that the report has been released, Sinclair said, unless there is pushback from the BERT, which he does not think will happen.

“I think they understand the need to be careful about issues of academic freedom,” Sinclair said. “I think that they have heard our concerns and so I am very hopeful that this report and this task force will ultimately change the behavior of that office in a positive way.”

Follow Emma Henderson on Twitter @henderemma .

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Emma Henderson

Emma Henderson