Home Education OU gets off in FIRE lawsuit, but not for free

OU gets off in FIRE lawsuit, but not for free

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In a settlement signed Monday, Feb. 2, Ohio University agreed to modify numerous policies that restricted the freedom of speech on campus.

Student Isaac Smith brought these policies to light in July 2014 after The Office of Community Standards told Smith and other members of the Students Defending Students organization to stop wearing t-shirts with the slogan “We get you off for free.” Smith and the members of the Students Defending Students complied with the administration in fear of punishment under the Student Code of Conduct. The slogan has been used for over three decades, according to an article from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

Smith sued the University and won, marking the fourth victory for the FIRE’s Stand up for Free Speech Litigation Project. FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation focused on issues of free speech and academic freedom for universities and colleges across the United States.

Monday’s settlement has caused Ohio University to change these policies to comply with the First Amendment and pay $32,000 for Smith’s damages and attorneys’ fees, $6,000 of which directly goes to Smith.

This code was criticized for being full of vague language and full of misinterpretation.  The old code prohibited any “act that degrades, demeans, or disgraces” another student as well as “taking any reckless, but not accidental, action from which mental or bodily harm could result to another person.” The future changes to the Student Code of Conduct will be finalized and go into effect August 19, 2015.

In the University’s statement, Vice President for Student Affairs Ryan Lombardi said the code of conduct revisions were underway before Smith’s lawsuit was filed and have continued on plan since action was taken.

“I’m pretty excited. It’s a great feeling,” Smith told The Athens News on Monday. “Universities don’t really have the incentive to fight something like this because of the fact that cases that are picked for the Stand Up For Speech campaign are generally such airtight cases.”

“Because of Smith’s willingness to stand up for his constitutional rights, Ohio University has revised its vague speech codes,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said in the FIRE article. “For too long, universities have engaged in censorship with little or no fear of repercussions. FIRE is bringing that era to an end.”

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