Ohio University's Baker Center

Ohio University’s Baker Center. Photo by Ben Peters.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio wrote a letter to Ohio University last week urging the administration to not follow through on its proposals to strip the university’s Center for Law, Justice, and Culture of funding and relocate the office’s only full-time employee.

The letter, penned by ACLU of Ohio Executive Director J. Bennett Guess and addressed to OU Executive Vice President and Provost Elizabeth Sayrs and College of Arts and Sciences Dean Florenz Plassmann, arrived a day after nearly 20 faculty members affiliated with the center circulated a message that outlined the potential implications of the proposed cuts and requested that students and alumni defend the office from being gutted.

“The potential loss of this substantive university offering, at a time of great partisan divide, political incivility, and legislative gridlock would have serious confounding consequences for our society, state, and nation,” The ACLU’s letter said. “This is a profoundly wrong move at exactly the wrong time in the life of Ohio University and our democratic republic.”

According to the faculty members, Plassmann recently notified them of the proposed cuts. He did not immediately return requests for comment on either the proposal or the ACLU’s letter.

The center, which teaches students about law, inequality, mass incarceration, policing and protest, surveillance and technology, human rights and international justice in the absence of a formal law school, has maintained a close relationship with the ACLU of Ohio over the years having helped students explore career paths, the letter said.

“The College of Arts and Sciences will avoid, as much as possible, decisions that impact availability of classes or pre-law advising and has no plans to change degree or certificate programs offered by the CLJC,” OU Spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said in a statement. “The University is continuing to prepare the FY22-23 budget. No decisions have been made, and no plans are final at this point in time.”

The changes, if implemented, could result in the elimination of OU’s “Pre-Law Day,” a networking event for students and alumni, and the halting of lectures, panels and campus visits from legal scholars, according to the faculty letter.

”The proposed cuts to the CLJC would jeopardize a number of our unique programs that serve as a recruitment tool for the university and that provide professional experiences for students interested in careers in law ... the cuts would jeopardize many of our pathways--from high school to undergraduate to graduate and JD programs--that have taken many years to establish,” Smoki Musaraj, the office’s director, said in a statement.

Larry Hayman, the office’s pre-law specialist whose position could be significantly altered under the proposal, offers career advice to students interested in studying law and has helped the OU chapter of the ACLU host events related to the organization’s civil liberties work in southeast Ohio.

“Under Mr. Hayman’s leadership, CLJC has flourished, playing a crucial role in the development of curious legal minds and setting up students for success,” the ACLU’s letter said.

According to the faculty message, the proposed cuts would relocate Hayman’s position either partially or entirely to an undergraduate advising center, which could result in the elimination of the annual Summer Law & Trial Institute that teaches high school students across the region about legal access in Appalachia.

Hayman’s relocation could also harm other programs he’s involved with, including the university mock trial team, according to the faculty. Leatherwood maintained that under the current budget proposal, mock trial, “Pre-Law Day” and the Summer Law & Trial Institute would not be impacted.

Editor’s note: The story has been updated to include additional comments from sources.

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