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University of Montana Official Challenges Charges That Free Speech is Endangered on Campus [AUDIO]

Roy Austin, Jr.
photo by Peter Christian

On May 9, the University of Montana entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division to address problems regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault. Since that time, a group called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has criticized the agreement, calling it a threat to free speech on campus.

Lucy France is the General Legal Counsel for the University of Montana. France said on Friday, June 7 that she was grateful for the opportunity to speak to the comments and articles published by FIRE over the past few weeks.

“I have read some of the commentary, but what I’ve really focused on is the agreement the university signed,” France said. “If we look at and read the text that is publicly available of the agreement that we signed, regarding the Title IX and Title IV investigations, we have agreed to adopt and revise our policies and procedures. There’s nothing in the agreement that tells us what kind of policies and procedures to adopt. They just have to be effective and follow the law.”

France said none of the policies are intended to deny anyone free speech on campus.

“In no way are we required to prescribe speech conduct, or have harassment codes that impair exercise of rights protected under the first amendment, nor would we do that,” France said. “The college campus is a place for robust communication and dialogue.”

France said the university has already complied with several aspects of the agreement, including hiring what is called an ‘equity consultant’.

“We have two agreements, the Title IX agreement, and we’ve been working with an equity consultant, Barry Gaumberg, currently the equal opportunity and affirmative action coordinator at Weber State University,” France said. “The Missoula police are working with an independent reviewer that monitors we’re doing what we agreed to under the agreement.”

France said the University of Montana is not alone when it comes to scrutiny by the federal government.

“It’s not just the University of Montana, it’s all over the country,” France said. “Colleges are recognizing that peer-on-peer harassment is a form of discrimination, and colleges and universities all over the country need to figure out how to most effectively deal with that.”

UM General Legal Counsel Lucy France

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