U Nevada gambles with student rights
Updated: Sep 23, 2020
UPDATE (September 23, 2020): In response to SLF's August 21 letter, UNR stated that the fears of concerned students were "unfounded." SLF disagrees, and expressed this in a follow up letter today. "[S]tudents face attacks on their First Amendment rights at all times and in all ways . . . It is certainly feasible that students could abuse the Reporting Form by submitting false reports against their peers, and that student groups will be deterred from engaging in speech activities that risk discipline for COVID violations." SLF continues to monitor the University's COVID policies to ensure the University does not violate students' constitutional rights.
RENO, NV (August 21, 2020): Today Southeastern Legal Foundation sent a letter to yet another university warning it about its unconstitutional COVID-19 reporting scheme. On the homepage of the University of Nevada Reno (UNR) website, students are encouraged to submit COVID-19 reports. And not just personal reports—students can report any other student they believe may have COVID symptoms. They can also report any student they think may have been in contact with a potentially symptomatic student. That means the amount of students who can be reported for actual or even imagined COVID symptoms is endless.
Through its 1A Project, SLF advises universities that these forms can be used to violate free speech activities and student privacy. After hearing about the 1A Project’s efforts to stop universities from using these reporting forms to trample on their students' constitutional rights, concerned student leaders at UNR reached out to SLF attorneys. The students, members of Young Americans for Liberty, feared that this form could be used by other students to shut down their events. It is imperative that the university clarify how it will use information students provide about their peers.
“Through the 1A Project, our goal is to give students the tools they need to stand up for their First Amendment rights,” says SLF General Counsel Kimberly Hermann. “At UNR, students saw a problem and were willing to take a stand for the Constitution. That is an example of true leadership in the face of today’s culture.”