Home Campus OPINION: New admin pickets protesters’ rights

OPINION: New admin pickets protesters’ rights

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The "Baker 70" protest inside Baker Center in February 2017. File photo by Heather Willard

The interim “Freedom of Expression” policy is creating controversy across campus. Opinion writer Michael Broerman breaks down how it prohibits free speech.

A student’s right to protest on university property has been severely restricted due to new Ohio University President Duane Nellis signing into effect the “Freedom of Expression” policy last week on an interim basis. The main point of the policy is that it inhibits the ability of student groups to organize protests in university buildings. The connection to the sit-in at Baker University Center cannot be denied as a catalyst for this new restrictive policy.

The direct link to last spring’s sit-in is evident in the new policy’s affirmation of the longstanding policy against sit-ins and disruptive protests. That is nothing new. The new policy allows “faculty, staff, students and community groups” to “reserve available facilities inside buildings for any legal purpose, including to engage in constitutionally protected speech, subject to applicable building rules and availability,” which is a clear limitation on how people can organize.

The primary problem with this new proposed policy is that it further extends the right of the university to cancel, disrupt or disperse protests that it finds “disruptive” in one of three ways:

  • “substantially interferes” with employees doing their jobs, students going to class or an authorized event
  • “materially impedes” the flow of foot traffic
  • risks “reasonable harm” to individuals or university property.

As many familiar with last year’s sit-in will recall, the university’s definition of “impeding foot traffic” was highly suspect to many demonstrators and spectators alike who witnessed students and faculty moving through Baker with minimal difficulty. This policy only expands the rights of the university to shut down protests based on these highly-subjective terms related to so-called disruption.

There are further implications in the timing of this new policy, as well, outside the realm of Athens. This an increasingly turbulent time in America. The policy is limiting one of the most importants elements of a protest — timeliness. If there is a new policy announced by the president, such as DACA cancellation or new sexual assault guidelines, it is not until after that announcement that a student leader can even make a request for space. Then it is up to the discretion of this unidentified council when and if to allow the use of a building for a protest. By the time the protest permit is granted, there may be an entirely new issue that is in need of objection, leaving the previous one as old news.

Among students at Ohio U, there exists a chasm between what both sides of the political spectrum have to say about the freedom of speech and expression on campus. Whatever your personal opinions may be on safe spaces or free speech zones, the least logical solution to a crisis of representation is to take away the right of the people to protest peacefully. Doing so will only further marginalize those individuals who already feel voiceless, causing more people to move to the more radicalized and extremist ends of the political spectrum.

As stated above and in official university documents, this new policy has been introduced on an interim basis. This means that the Executive Staff Policy Committee will be asking for input from influential members of the Ohio U community, including, but not limited to; faculty, Administrative and Classified Senates, Student and Graduate Student Senates, deans, chairs and directors, among others. Their input, due Oct. 6, will be reviewed by the Executive Staff Policy Committee, which will draft the final version of the policy before it is introduced and adopted fully, per Ohio U staff reports.  

Whatever side of the politics you may be on, there is a responsibility as an American citizen and Ohio U student to contact these people and relate your opposition to the Freedom of Expression policy.

Regardless of how unpleasant, unpopular or “disruptive” some particular free speech may be, those who feel the need to say it will find a venue to do so.  It does not matter that they cannot use university buildings. They will take it to the streets, the stoplights or social media.

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One Comment

  1. Anonymous

    September 15, 2017 at 10:54 PM

    You idiots would ignore the hazards that the Baker Protest created. Let’s say that instead of just Baker someone thought the protest should be at the Convo after a game so that they tried to get the most attention possible and there was an accident these protesters would endanger thousands of lives just to get their point across.


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