STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State University has made changes to policies governing discrimination and intolerance on campus, clarifying rules about harassment related to speech on campus.
A lawyer for a student that sued the school over claims that his free speech was being suppressed praised the changes as protecting "against actual harassment while protecting free speech."
Penn State student Alfred Fluehr filed suit against the school in February. Attorney David French, of the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group based in Scottsdale, Ariz., said the old policies had caused Fluehr to suppress his speech. Fluehr has had to "self-censor" his conservative views because someone might perceive them as intolerant, his attorney has said.
"It isn't so much what is said, but the manner" in which the speech is expressed, French said yesterday. "Under the old policy, you could take someone's viewpoint and ban it."
But the revised policy on antidiscrimination and harassment allows what some might consider to be derogatory or demeaning speech, so long as it doesn't specifically target or harass a student, Fluehr said.
Penn State does not have a "speech code," though the guidelines in question had already been under review before the lawsuit was filed for possible "language changes that would add clarity," school spokesman Tysen Kendig said.
The changes were implemented last week because such revisions typically don't take place until after a semester ends, he said.
"It had been in the works, but clearly they had input," school president Graham Spanier said about the legal group's involvement in university discussions about changes to the policies.
The revised definition of an "act of intolerance" refers to "conduct in violation of a University policy, rule or regulation and is motivated by discriminatory bias against or hatred toward other individuals or groups based on characteristics such as age, ancestry, color," etc.
According to court documents, the previous policy read: "Intolerance refers to an attitude, feeling or belief in furtherance of which an individual acts to intimidate, threaten or show contempt for other individuals or groups based on characteristics such as age, ancestry, color ..."
Spanier said "some changes were made in defining speech to be consistent with legal precedence."
Fluehr, a junior political science major, will return to Penn State in this fall. French said his client had no plans to drop the suit, and that other issues were still pending.
But, "the 'speech code' issues going forward have been resolved," French said. "It's a very good policy."
French's group also filed suit in February against Temple on behalf of a student there on a separate free-speech case. A Temple graduate said in the lawsuit that he was a target of "retribution and retaliation" because his view on the Iraq clashed with those of his professors.