OU SPJ chapter urges president to rescind interim freedom of expression policy
CONTACT: Maddie Capron, OU SPJ president
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ATHENS, Ohio—The nation’s top campus chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists opposes a Ohio University interim freedom of expression policy and released a statement upon a unanimous vote by the chapter’s executive board.
Ohio University president M. Duane Nellis and interim executive vice president David Descutner said the purpose of the policy is not to constrain free expression. They said the policy was approved in response to the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, regarding a Confederate statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee. The policy is necessary to provide a safe campus, they added.
OU SPJ president Maddie Capron said:
“Every week, the OU chapter of SPJ meets as a whole. Often, those meetings are centered around the First Amendment and the freedoms it protects. Naturally, the interim ‘Freedom of Expression’ policy became a concern for the executive board.”
Capron added: “It is the mission of the Society of Professional Journalists to protect the rights granted in the First Amendment and ‘to maintain constant vigilance in protection of the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press.’ The executive board of the Ohio University chapter feels that, as an organization whose main goal is to promote the freedoms of speech and press, it is important to speak out against something we feel violated those rights.”
Ohio University garnered media attention in February when campus police arrested 70 students for a sit-down protest in the Baker student center rotunda to ask that former university president Roderick McDavis make OHIO a sanctuary campus. An Athens city judge dismissed the criminal charges against the first student to go to court. Subsequently, the campus police chief requested that charges against the remaining students be dismissed. The university decided not to pursue campus code of conduct violations against the remaining students.
The OU SPJ statement says: “This interim policy, had it been in effect during the Baker 70 event, would have made the peaceful assembly in the rotunda after most daily classes and business activities had ceased for the day an illegal one per the policy. The conflict arose after OUPD’s actions, not the actions of those gathered.”
The policy took effect Aug. 17— 11 days before the start of classes and before students had a chance to comment on the policy. The Aug. 12 riot in Charlottesville left three dead. Two were state troopers, whose helicopter crashed as they flew to the scene.
Nellis and Descutner said the policy is necessary to ensure a safe campus.
Statement of the Ohio University Chapter, Society of Professional Journalists on the Ohio University Interim Freedom of Expression Policy
Upon due consideration thereof, the executive board of the Ohio University chapter, Society of Professional Journalists, issues the following statement in opposition to the interim Freedom of Expression policy currently on comment.
In the Sept. 18 statement from President Duane Nellis and Interim Executive Vice President David Descutner, they said the purpose of the policy is not intent to constrain free expression.
We disagree with their point. The intent is not what matters or what courts use in determining whether an attempt to regulate speech is unconstitutional. It’s the effect, and the practical effect of this policy is to restrict the speech of everyone who comes onto this public university property.
While the administration claims that the policy is a response to the events in Charlottesville, several groups in the community, including members of the OU SPJ executive board, assume this policy is a response to the Baker 70 arrests in February. This event on campus was in no way similar to the riot in Charlottesville.
This interim policy, had it been in effect during the Baker 70 event, would have made the peaceful assembly in the rotunda after most daily classes and business activities had ceased for the day an illegal one per the policy. The conflict arose after OUPD’s actions, not the actions of those gathered.
The interim policy declares, “Demonstrations, rallies, public speech-making, picketing, sit-ins, marches, protests, and similar assemblies are not permitted in the interior spaces of university buildings.”
The interim policy has already created issues with students who were doing things such a registering people to vote. The students were asked to leave Baker Center due to the policy, according to a column in The Post.
Baker Center is a historically established public forum. The public gathers at The Front Room, Latitude 39 and West 82 for food and meetings. The public attends programs in the theater, ballroom, Multicultural Center and multipurpose room. The public enjoys artistic works at Trisolini Gallery and the gallery attached to the Multicultural Center.
The College Green is a gathering place where members of the OU community, Athenians and visitors gather for food, fellowship, the arts and leisure activities.
The Constitution allows for diverse viewpoints to be expressed. However, it does not include a right for people to commit crimes in the name of protests. That’s why the City of Athens and the State of Ohio have ordinances and laws in place to govern disorderly conduct, creating a public nuisance, vandalism, assault and other infractions caused by rioting. The university should enforce those instead of narrowing free expression on campus.
Therefore, the executive board of the OU chapter of SPJ urges the OU administration to rescind this policy and resist efforts of any other groups to put another in its place.
This statement was approved by a vote of the OU SPJ executive board on Oct. 12, 2017.