Higher Education

Mike Brake | August 16, 2021

‘OU Report It!’ hotline seeks anonymous reports of ‘suspected wrongdoing’

A recent campus-wide email from the University of Oklahoma instructed faculty, staff, and students how to inform on one another.

“At OU, fostering an environment of integrity, respect, and the highest ethical standards is a top priority,” the Aug. 6 email said. To that end, OU is introducing a hotline dubbed “OU Report It!” to provide “a simple and anonymous way for employees, students, and community members to report concerns or possible misconduct.”

OU has contracted with a vendor called EthicsPoint to provide the OU Report It! system. “The university has partnered with EthicsPoint, an independent third party, to provide this avenue to confidentially report suspected wrongdoing or unethical behavior without the fear of retaliation,” the email message says.

EthicsPoint’s website says its system will “capture and investigate ethics & compliance reports for all areas of your organization in a centralized database.”

You can access OU Report It! via phone or by scanning a code “that makes the reporting procedure even easier and faster,” the email message concludes.

What are members of the OU community supposed to report? OU Report It! appears to operate under the auspices of the campus Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which has its own Bias Response Team and sponsors programs and seminars to root out, for example, “systems of oppression” related to race, gender, sex, ability, transgender status, and more.

“The University cannot punish or censor student speech based on its content,” the office’s webpage says. However, a former OU volleyball player is suing the university on those very grounds.

“They want you to be intimidated and terrified.” —Nicole Neily, president of Speech First

Presumably, reports to OU Report It! are to mirror those submitted to the bias hotline that preceded the new system, except we don’t know what those reports were. Beginning in 2018, OCPA sought details (with names redacted) about what had been reported to the bias hotline. That began a multi-year ordeal that ultimately ended with OU declining to provide the requested information.

We do know the content of many bias reports at other campuses. The College Fix website has compiled a number of the more preposterous ones, such as the complaint at Ohio State from a black student who said a message board tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King was inadequate and insulting because it omitted the “Dr.” honorific.

A Michigan State student reported his roommate for watching a conservative video online. At Minnesota a food court worker’s happy greeting in Japanese was deemed by the reporting student as a microaggression and example of cultural misappropriation. So was Hawaiian Shirt Day at Utah.

Due Process?

Nicole Neily, president of Speech First, a national organization that defends free speech on campus and monitors bias reporting systems like OU’s, says such systems usually violate due process rules in that they target students or faculty members who are accused of hate speech but don’t allow them to confront their accuser.

“This can be intimidating to an 18- or 19-year-old,” Neily said. “They worry, is this going to go on my permanent record? Will it hurt my chances to get into medical school? What it becomes is a star chamber. They want you to be intimidated and terrified.”

Neily said in cases where her group was able to examine the actual content of reports to bias hotlines, the vast majority of the alleged offenses were trivial. She said most reports involve political or religious speech, and universities seem much more interested in pursuing complaints against conservatives.

Reporting systems also seem to strive to increase the number of allegations each year, which she said creates an impression that the campus is a hotbed of hate.

“That undermines the community,” Neily said, which is what the systems are supposedly created to strengthen.

Speech First and other First Amendment groups have successfully sued a number of universities, forcing them to abandon or modify their bias reporting machinery. She said she is hopeful that a current case may eventually make its way to the U. S. Supreme Court.


[For more stories about higher education in Oklahoma, visit AimHigherOK.com.]

Mike Brake

Independent Journalist

Mike Brake is a journalist and writer who recently authored a centennial history of Putnam City Schools. A former reporter at The Oklahoman (his coverage of the moon landing earned a front-page byline on July 21, 1969), he served as chief writer for Gov. Frank Keating and for Lt. Gov. and Congresswoman Mary Fallin. He has also served as an adjunct instructor at OSU-OKC, and currently serves as public information officer for Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan.

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