Ohio University has announced a ban of protests, demonstrations, and other political rallies within campus buildings, because such activities are “disruptive to university operations.”
The Post, Athens reported on Saturday that the publicly-funded university’s new policy, titled “Freedom of Expression,” was announced this weekend, in addition to changes to the school’s use of outdoor space policy. Though announced on Friday, the policies took effect on an interim basis on August 17 with no announcement until this week.
The policy specifically prohibits “demonstrations, rallies, public speech-making, picketing, sit-ins, marches, protests, and similar assemblies” within university buildings. The campus press release calls it “a continuation of a ‘long-standing prohibition of demonstrations and sit-ins inside buildings.’”
Additionally, students who insist on holding political events can reserve space indoors to participate in what they call “’constitutionally protected speech’ and activities.”
“The university reserves the right to limit use of some indoor and outdoor spaces to only registered students and university groups,” an OU spokesperson told The Post. “It may also segregate protesters at outdoor events to a designated space if the university decides that is necessary to “preserve order and ensure the physical safety of all participants in the event.”
The university’s new policy defines “disruptive conduct” as any activities that “interferes with university employee’s abilities to do their jobs, interferes with an authorized event, impedes the flow of traffic or poses a threat to people or university property.”
In addition, activities that prevent students from using facilities or participating in studies or extracurricular activities are also considered disruptive.
Following the new policy, the university is calling on the Faculty Senate, Student Senate, and other groups for feedback before October 6. Several groups already contacted by the Post describe the policy in unfavorable terms.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) rates Ohio University with a free speech rating of “yellow.” Yellow-rated institutions contain at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application.
Speaking to the Daily Caller, Azhar Majeed, FIRE’s VP of Policy Reform provided us with the following statement:
FIRE is pleased that Ohio University’s policy allows students to use outdoor spaces of campus for unscheduled expressive activity, so long as their speech does not interfere with previously scheduled use or constitute disruptive conduct. The policy’s ban on demonstrations and similar activity within indoor locations is most likely a reasonable regulation and permissible given the university’s interest in preventing disruption to the educational setting.