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Judge Strikes Down U. Of Michigan Ban on Racial Harassment

August 26, 1989

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) _ A University of Michigan policy aimed at cutting discriminatory harassment on campus is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled.

University officials proposed the policy last year after assorted racist acts, including a widely publicized incident in which a student disc jockey on a campus radio show allowed a caller to tell anti-black jokes.

U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn ruled Friday that the policy violates freedom of speech and was so vague that ″persons of common intelligence must guess at its meaning.″

The ruling likely will have national significance, said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan, which challenged the policy on behalf of an unidentified Michigan student.

″Universities from Duke to Stanford and Wisconsin and in between are faced with these same kinds of problems and are considering similar policies to the University of Michigan,″ Simon said.

The policy barred harassment or discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, creed, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, handicap or Vietnam-veteran status. The ACLU did not challenge a part of the policy that bars physical acts of harassment.

″The policy is clearly well-intentioned - the university needs to address problems of harmful racism on campus - but the method by which they chose to do so assaults the principles of free speech and freedom of expression,″ Simon said.

″The judge has forced them to go back to the drawing board and develop a policy that doesn’t violate free speech but protects students from harassment,″ he said. ″The judge performed a public service.″

The university’s general counsel, Elsa Kircher Cole, said she was disappointed by the ruling.

″We had very carefully crafted a policy that would recognize First Amendment rights of students while addressing the very serious problems of racial and sexual harassment on campus,″ Cole said.

Cole said the university had begun reviewing the policy before Cohn held a hearing on it Friday, and now will decide whether to rewrite it or appeal the judge’s ruling.

A majority of Michigan Board of Regents had favored the policy, but Regent Deane Baker said he glad it was struck down.

″My own belief is that people on campus should be completely free to speak as they wish,″ Baker said. ″One might not agree with what is said, but if there is any place where we should have free speech it is our universities, where we seek to find truth.″

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