opponents of OU’s free-expression policy

Students and other opponents of OU’s previously-adopted free-expression policy protested with a rally and march in October 2017. 

An advisory group on Ohio University’s “freedom of expression” policies met for the second time this past Friday, and discussed opening the group’s currently closed-door meetings to the public once the group goes through further feedback on the policies.

The two interim “freedom of expression” policies – one regulating use of internal spaces at OU and one regulating outdoor spaces – have proved to be very unpopular and controversial since the OU administration approved them this summer. The indoor policy in particular bans any protests or demonstrations inside university buildings without prior approval from university administration.

The ACLU of Ohio has called the policies “unconstitutional,” and OU’s Faculty, Student and Graduate senates all have come out against them.

University President Duane Nellis convened what the university is calling its Presidential Policy Advisory Group in late October, with the charge of reviewing all of the feedback that the campus and other community members have sent to the university on the policies.

OU Scripps College of Communication Dean Scott Titsworth said during a conference call with local media Friday that the group’s goal is to synthesize that feedback to produce a “series of recommendations” that will inform the OU administration on the next draft of one or more policies on “freedom of expression” that will replace the current interim policies.

“After that policy is drafted, it would go through a period of time where advice, feedback and information would be (solicited) from the campus community through the various senates,” he explained.

Titsworth said that the group is hoping to finish its work “prior to spring break (2018).”

The Communication College dean said that the first 30 minutes of the group’s hour-long meeting Friday was taken up by “continued discussion” of the group’s “feelings” about whether the group’s meetings should be open or closed to the public.

The ACLU of Ohio also has spoken out against the group voting unanimously to keep its meetings closed to the public during its first meeting in November.

Titsworth explained that no consensus has yet been reached on whether meetings “absolutely going forward should be open or closed.”

“We discussed whether there are different aspects of meetings where it would be more appropriate for them to be open, (and) other types of meetings where it would be more appropriate for us to remain a closed group for us to be able to work together,” he said.

Titsworth suggested that the group might like to keep its meetings closed to the public as members are reviewing feedback on the “freedom of expression” policies. However, when the group gets into the “nitty-gritty” work of deciding what guiding principals should inform the new policy, Titsworth said, the group could open its meetings or even host “public forums” to solicit public input on those principals.

Titsworth added, however, that the group has not yet decided on what those possible public forums or open meetings would entail, or how they would be structured.

Asked if the group has seen any consensus from the public on the policies, Titsworth noted that the group has only analyzed the 10 first comments out of roughly 100 total comments so far, with the intent of developing a “thematic interpretive process” to analyze the rest of the comments.

“One of the things that was common, and received a lot of attention in those (first 10) comments was the statement that free speech is vital to the functioning of the university,” Titsworth explained, “and what I mean by that is that several of the comments were reviewed where the authors of those comments advocated for the necessity of broad free speech on a college campus, where we are trying to create a community that promotes critical thinking… and the ability to have difficult dialogues.”

Titsworth said that once the group goes through all the comments, it will create a list of “themes” with example statements from the public comments that illustrate those themes. 

The advisory group consists of the following members: 

• Scott Titsworth, convener of the advisory group.

• Landen Lama, president of Student Senate.

• Maria Modayil, president of Graduate Student Senate.

• Jacqueline Wolf, Faculty Senate representative.

• Jessica Wingett, chair of Administrative Senate.

• Sharon Romina, chair of Classified Senate.

• Katherine Jellison, chair of the OU Department of History.

• Grant Garber, representative of OU Legal Affairs.

• Andrew Powers, chief of the OU Police Department.

• Dusty Kilgour, executive director of Baker University Center.

• Carly Leatherwood, senior director of communications services with University Communications and Marketing, who is an “ex-officio” member of the committee, according to the release.

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