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Chapter 13 Defining the Line: Freedom of Speech and Online Dispute Resolution Best Practices for Higher Education

From the book Volume I Contemporary Trends in Conflict and Communication

  • Erica Knotts and Victoria Goodson


Universities have always been known for creating a thriving environment for civil discourse and conflicting beliefs, but sometimes this can contradict university policies. As universities strive to grasp the ever-changing online environment, all while exposing new layers of vulnerability and anonymity, the question arises: how can universities encourage students to express their freedom of speech while still recognizing and addressing the impact to members of the higher education community? This question has legal, ethical, policy, and philosophical implications and challenges of which we will highlight throughout this chapter. It is widely recognized that universities which provide dispute resolution options to students create conducive, positive, and thriving environments. These options can include facilitated dialogue, restorative justice, restorative practices, and mediation. In addition, these processes are not just limited to the in-person format but can also be modeled in virtual and online platforms. Within universities, the student conduct process emphasizes educational and disciplinary outcomes which tend to penalize students for using their freedom of speech if it contradicts university policy. The implementation of the dispute resolution process enables students to use their First Amendment rights so they can engage in a dialogue to understand how their beliefs and speech affect others. This chapter will serve as an examination of the best proactive and reactive dispute resolution processes for creating healthy and positive online learning communities for higher education institutions. The authors will provide real-life examples to demonstrate how these beneficial resolution outcomes can be achieved.

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