Home Campus Here’s why Ohio U has a mediocre freedom of speech ranking

Here’s why Ohio U has a mediocre freedom of speech ranking

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Protestors demand that Athens be declared a "sanctuary city" in Baker Center during February 2017.

The interim Freedom of Expression policy is turning heads, but this national free speech group is suggesting that another Ohio U policy infringes on student rights. 

A national free speech group has given Ohio University a “yellow light” status for its policies that affect freedom of expression, but it says Ohio U’s controversial new protest policies are not the problem.

The Foundation for Individual Rights for Education (FIRE) is a national advocacy group whose goal is to “defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities.”  It achieves this goal by maintaining a website that ranks universities and their policies on a green light to red light scale.  

Ohio U’s yellow light means that the university is an institution that has “at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application.”  The “ambiguous policy” that they object to is university policy 91.003, which outlines Ohio U’s stance on computer and network use.

The computer and network policy “provides guidance and establishes expectations for members of the university community as they use Ohio (University’s) information technology resources,” and dictates what a user can and cannot do with the university’s resources.  

FIRE specifically objects to section C-4 of the policy, which says “in making acceptable use of resources, you must NOT… Use resources to intimidate or single out individuals or groups for degradation or harassment in violation of federal or state law and other university policies.”

But other university policies — including the controversial 24.014 policy regarding free speech — have received green lights, meaning that they are policies that “do not seriously imperil speech.”

It is worth noting that FIRE stipulates that “a green light does not indicate that a school actively supports free expression. It simply means that FIRE is not currently aware of any serious threats to students’ free speech rights in the policies on that campus.”

On a campus level, the policy has created more controversy than support. Students Defending Students, an organization that strives to protect student rights, has taken a much more critical look at Ohio U’s interim free speech policies.

Molly Kardasz, Associate Director of SDS, said the policy could threaten freedom of speech on campus.

“From my understanding of the policy, there’s no forming any rallies or anything indoors, and they are able to move you if they don’t like your location outdoors, which I think could be a very big issue with freedom of speech and freedom of expression for students on campus,” Kardasz said.

It’s not just students who are speaking out against this policy. Faculty are getting involved as well.  The Ohio U chapter of the American Association of University Professors recently released a statement on its website that condemns the interim policy.  

Associate Professor Dave Ridpath, a member-at-large of the AAUP, said they are worried about the effect this new policy will have on freedom of expression at Ohio U.

“It really creates a chilling effect, because then what’s next, you know?” Ridpath said.

“They can say you’re blocking this, you’re inhibiting this, we’re going to arrest you.”

If you would like to have your voice heard about this issue, you can contact Student Senate or Graduate Student Senate.

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