Ohio University bans indoor protests with new speech policy

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ATHENS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio University’s new “freedom of expression” policy has been met with opposition by some students and faculty.

The Columbus Dispatch reports Ohio University announced the new speech policy Sept. 8. University officials last week extended a comment period on what it calls an “interim policy” by two weeks, to Oct. 20, noting it’s an issue many “care about deeply.”

Under the policy, protests and rallies are not permitted inside of university buildings. The shift in policy comes after 70 protesters participating in a campus sit-in to oppose President Donald Trump’s travel ban were arrested and charged with criminal trespass. University officials also cited violent rallies in Charlottesville in their decision.

Some students and faculty members fear the policy is too broad. Administrators say the university’s policy is a way to foster the exchange of ideas while keeping campus safe.

President M. Duane Nellis and Interim Provost David Descutner said in a message last week that “it is clear that this is a significant issue.” They praised the leadership role of the University Senates and said they realize it would have been better to complete the policy in consultation with the bodies before submitting it to the university community for comment.

“I’m proud of the university for being so proactive in getting this policy initiated. Am I in favor of a lot of what it says? No,” said Student Senate president Landen Lama. “I am hopeful that this policy will be changed with the feedback from all constituencies affected by it,” he added.

Ohio University’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors offered a stronger response.

“Universities are supposed to be places for robust deliberation on matters essential to a society and to the world as a whole. These new interim policies potentially undermine this important function,” wrote the group in a statement.

Administrators say the university’s policy is a balance between fostering the exchange of ideas while keeping campus safe. Officials cited violent rallies in Charlottesville in their decision.

The new policy is a good starting point, according to Azhar Majeed of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

“I do have some optimism on this because the policy as a whole seems cognizant of First Amendment principles,” said Majeed.

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