President Duane Nellis publicly addressed the “Freedom of Expression” policy during the Ohio University Graduate Student Senate’s first meeting of the academic year, sparking conversation that dominated the duration of the meeting.

The interim policy, which allows students to reserve space but forbids “demonstrations, rallies, public speech-making, picketing, sit-ins, marches, protests and similar assemblies” from the inside of university buildings, has drawn contention since information was released Friday. 

“The policy we drafted was based on looking at similar free speech policies at other Ohio public universities,” Nellis said. “I’m not arguing for the policy we put out … it doesn’t ban free speech in buildings. If you register, you can go there and do what you want to do as long as it’s peaceful and not disruptive.”

After sharing introductory comments, Nellis turned his attention to media coverage of the policy, criticizing a recent article from The Columbus Dispatch.

“It’s like they didn’t read the policy,” Nellis said. "Even the draft policy. It’s certainly not banning free speech in buildings.”

Several members of the GSS body voiced concerns about the ambiguity of the policy, which does not specify consequences for behavior that violates the policy. 

“This freedom of expression policy is ambiguous in many ways,” Patton College Senator Bahman Shahri said. “I believe this is a bipartisan thing.” 

Nellis plans to meet with executive members of the five university senates Friday to discuss the next steps in revising the policy.

“Truly, we want this document to be reflective of the spirit of the campus community,” Nellis said. “We had to get something out there to kind of start the dialogue.” 

OU Faculty Senate also addressed the policy at their Monday meeting, calling it “sweeping” due to its limitations on speech and assembly. Interim Executive Vice President and Provost David Descutner discussed the possibility of holding an open house event, similar to the one the administration held to address the potential end of DACA, to invite feedback. 

“This is not an unimportant matter,” Descutner said. “This is a very important matter, and we want to get this as right as we can.”

Fatma Jabbari, a former member of GSS, said she was “dismayed” with the body for not taking a more substantial stance in opposition to the policy.

“In the past, we had stronger stances when it comes to freedom of expression,” Jabbari said. “Most importantly, I’d like to remind this body that your constituents are the students — that people who voted for you are the students, and not the administration.” 

“I don’t want to see that happen here in the senate ... me being a student and having a body who represents me and won’t speak on my behalf." 

As the meeting approached its time limit, a number of resolutions were tabled for future deliberation. All new representatives and senators were appointed to their positions, granting them full voting and debate privileges. 

@lauren__fisher

lf966614@ohio.edu

Clarification: The article has been updated to clarify Jabbari's opinions on GSS' response to the freedom of expression policy.

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