A non-profit group filed a First Amendment lawsuit Thursday against officials at the University of Texas, accusing them of crimping free speech on campus.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Western District of Texas, follows a spate of incidents at the system’s flagship campus in Austin and some satellite campuses. Most recently, the Young Conservatives of Texas were attacked by angry liberal students when the group set up a table on a quad to express support for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Speech First Inc., the plaintiff, said the university has a speech code that’s both “vague and overbroad,” in an attempt to stymy viewpoints some students deem offensive.
“We had heard some really bad stories from our members there, and we were following reports from there, and it just sort of became a perfect storm,” said Nicole Neily, president and founder of Speech First, which has also initiated a First Amendment lawsuit this year against the University of Michigan.
Ms. Neily also cited the conclusion of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which gives the University of Texas a “red light” for speech codes it says are at odds with the First Amendment and principles of free speech.
School system President Gregory L. Fenves, along with several other top administrators, were named as defendants in the lawsuit.
The Austin campus did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Speech First said the school deploys a Campus Climate Response Team to police speech, swooping down on what the administrators label “campus climate” or “bias” incidents.
Since September 2017, the Response Team has investigated more than 100 reports of alleged bias, according to Speech First.
Response teams have proved controversial elsewhere, with the University of North Carolina disbanding its version and the University of Iowa scrubbing plans to launch one.
Mark Pulliam, an alumnus and retired attorney who earlier this year established “Stop the Insanity at UT” on Facebook, expressed regret the situation has deteriorated to the point where students feel compelled to turn to the courts.
“It is a shame that UT students have to file a lawsuit to protect their First Amendment rights from an intolerant administration,” Mr. Pulliam said. “The governor and his hand-picked Board of Regents have unfortunately failed to prevent abuses at Texas’ flagship university.”