The Bias Education and Response Team is under scrutiny from professors and staff after 15 years of operating at University of Oregon. A task force meant to collect information and enact policy on BERT has been formed by the UO Senate, a democratic body representing faculty, staff and students on campus. The formation of the task force was announced in an email from Senate president Bill Harbaugh to university senators.
The Bias and Education Response Team aims to assist students who feel uncomfortable about speaking up to offensive remarks in the classroom. The BERT takes reports of offensive remarks in class and informs the offending party—in many cases, faculty at the UO. Many faculty have recently voiced discomfort with the existence of the BERT, saying they feel policed by the administration.
“The faculty needs to regain oversight of what the administration is doing here,” Harbaugh told the Emerald. “It’s important for administrators to discuss things that could be reported, and make sure that we don’t leave them with responsibility for determining policy on what is taught in class.”
There is no clear policy on what is considered “offensive.” BERT has been the focus of national headlines over the last few years, and it’s raised some voices of concern, especially in the journalism school. Vice President of Student Life Robin Holmes said she was reviewing the team and expected to make changes, according to Harbaugh, at a journalism school town hall earlier this month.
The Bias Education and Response Team includes in their updates mission statement, “The fundamental role… is to respond to situations that affect the larger University of Oregon community through education about current and historical issues surrounding bias.”
The new task force responsible for observing the Bias Education and Response Team was announced June 30th, and will be chaired by University of Oregon faculty Chris Chavez and Chris Sinclair.
“The goal is to see what (BERT) has been doing,” Sinclair said. This includes what the BERT investigates, what materials they collect, what they do with those materials, whether there has been disciplinary action, and what impact the BERT has on freedom of speech in the classroom.
Sinclair is a math professor at the UO. He contended that the University of Oregon has to somehow respond to such incidents, and doesn’t expect a complete dissolution of BERT.
“I think it’s important to have something at the university to evaluate bias,” Sinclair said.
The task force has not yet held a meeting, but is in the process of recruiting new members, which will total about 10. The first meeting will be held before the start of fall term, according to Sinclair.