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Faculty Senate finds flaws in new Freedom of Expression policy

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The administration’s new Freedom of Expression policy still ruffled some faculty feathers over strict restriction of indoor protest.

Faculty Senate met to discuss the newly proposed Freedom of Expression policy with the administration in a single-issue meeting on April 16.

The discussion was focused on senators’ concerns with the way the new policy is worded regarding the use of indoor and outdoor spaces for protest, as well as whether restricting protest in the Baker University Center rotunda is acceptable.

The policy directly restricts protest in outdoor spaces if said protest is restricting the flow of vehicle traffic. Several outdoor spaces around campus, such as Emeriti Park and Lindley Park, are listed as reservable spaces for a protest. Indoor protests are allowed in public spaces where public safety and classroom environments will not be impeded upon. Over 10,000 people walk through the Baker rotunda every day, which would create a public safety concern if a protest were to take place, the administration said.

Faculty Senate chair Joe McLaughlin said that he would like to see a policy that is more permissive to indoor protest.

“I don’t see a problem with people standing in Baker Center rotunda holding signs if they’re not, you know, behaving in a way that violates the fire code,” McLaughlin said. “As long as people are not doing something that’s endangering other peoples safety and disrupting business, I do not think we should be restricting in advance.”

Sen. Bernhard Debatin was in opposition to the newly proposed policy.

The policy takes a shift in tone from the “flowery” preamble that reaffirms the administration’s dedication to protecting speech, Debatin said, to the sections regarding indoor and outdoor spaces, where all power is relegated to the police in deciding when a protest gets out of hand. Instead, he hopes to see an alternative plan put in place to choose who makes the final determination in declaring a protest a public safety issue.

Part of the policy is designed to avoid the humiliation the university experienced in 2016 following the Baker 70, when a judge dropped the charges placed on the accused students involved, Debatin said.

“I could easily live without a policy,” Debatin said.

Professor Nerissa Young, the faculty advisor for the Ohio U chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, who opposed the initial policy, spoke at the meeting. She said she opposes the policy because it assumes that a protest is automatically in violation of the law.

“If we are going to take this from a negative rights approach, then that means every man on this campus needs to be castrated because he may commit a sexual assault during his time here,” Young said.

Young said she was able to walk through the Baker 70 protest and did not believe it to be a public safety concern. She said her classroom had faced larger disruptions from construction work than a protest.

Giving police the final say in determining whether a protest is a public safety issue effectively makes Ohio University a police state, Young said. Several senators agreed with Young.

The administration declined to speak with the press after the meeting.

Faculty Senate will continue to work with the administrative committee on writing the final policy. McLaughlin urged senators to continue to provide feedback on the current proposed policy. The final policy will likely make its way to President Nellis’ desk in May, McLaughlin said.

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