daily californian logo


Apply to The Daily Californian!

Universities criticized for anonymous student misconduct reporting systems

article image


Some reporting systems at UC Berkeley resemble Stanford's system that is under scrutiny.


We're an independent student-run newspaper, and need your support to maintain our coverage.

MARCH 01, 2023

Stanford University was criticized this month by several free speech advocacy groups for a system that allows students to anonymously report bias or discrimination.

The reporting system allows students to express their concerns without sharing their identity and the information shared is stored in a third-party database, Maxient, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Many other universities across the country use similar anonymous reporting systems for various types of misconduct. Russell Berman, Stanford professor of comparative literature and German studies, expressed concern about student information being stored by Maxient.

“I was stunned that the university is working through a system run by an outside vendor to collect anonymous denunciations,” Berman said. “It may have a chilling effect on speech. It may frighten students and staff and faculty into silence and it collects uncorroborated accusations without alerting the accused.”

Organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, Speech First and the Goldwater Institute have all criticized these anonymous reporting systems. FIRE senior program officer Zach Greenberg said he has spoken to students and faculty at universities with anonymous reporting systems who say they self-censor and do not speak out on controversial issues for fear of being reported.

The University of California has a similar system in place, with campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof saying UC Berkeley has many different methods of reporting, several of which allow students to report issues anonymously. Students can report incidents of sexual violence, hate crimes and other incidents of bias and discrimination through PATH to Care, the Gender Equity Resource Center and the Office for Prevention of Harrassment and Discrimination, among other outlets.

Mogulof noted that campus has never had free speech concerns raised due to anonymous reporting. He added that he did not know of criticisms of Stanford’s reporting system.

“We are not aware of any instance of any student at any time being sanctioned for their perspectives or beliefs or opinions,” Mogulof said.

Greenberg added that in the campus advocacy department of FIRE he has advocated for “free speech” at colleges and universities through letters, blogs and public pressure, as well as a litigation team, though he refused to elaborate on ongoing legal challenges. Greenberg said his organization has worked with multiple schools in the UC system to help revise their reporting policies and “fight for free speech on campus.”

Cherise Trump, executive director of Speech First, claimed in an email that her organization is the only free speech advocacy group to successfully launch and win lawsuits against universities with similar reporting systems including the University of Central Florida, UT Austin and the University of Michigan, with the schools subsequently changing or removing their systems.

She said in 2020 it collected 3,800 petition signatures asking Stanford University to review policies that would help it be more “welcoming to differing views.”

“Bias reporting systems chill student and faculty speech and place the entire university community in a state of perpetual thought crime-style surveillance,” said Matt Beienburg, director of education policy at the Goldwater Institute, in an email. “Bias reporting systems are antithetical to the mission and essence of intellectual and academic freedom within higher education.”

Beienburg added that his organization has worked with Speech First in its efforts to adjust campus bias reporting systems.

Mogulof cited the University’s Principles of Community, one of which protects free speech for students across a spectrum of beliefs and communities.

“We are committed to ensuring freedom of expression and dialogue that elicits the full spectrum of views held by our varied communities,” Mogulof said. “We’re the home of the free speech movement and those are the reasons that diversity of perspective and protecting freedom of expression and academic freedom are key priorities for UC Berkeley.”

Contact Ella Carter-Klauschie at 


MARCH 01, 2023