After Ohio University issued its new interim "Freedom of Expression" policy, students, faculty and alumni criticized it for appearing to curb free speech.

The policy bans “demonstrations, rallies, public speech-making, picketing, sit-ins, marches, protests, and similar assemblies” from inside university buildings. OU students have been participating in those activities for decades.  

A recent example of that was the sit-in in Baker Center on Feb. 1, in which 70 demonstrators were arrested. But protesters, looking to stand for their beliefs, have occupied buildings throughout the years, particularly in the 1970s, when demonstrations sometimes took a more violent turn.

One of those protests took place in Lindley Hall in 1972, when 77 protesters were arrested and later called the “Athens 77.” Like the “Bobcat 70” in February, the “Athens 77” demonstration began as a peaceful way to protest former President Richard Nixon’s Vietnam policies. 

By 3 a.m. on May 10, about 250 students occupied OU’s ROTC headquarters in Lindley Hall. Former Ohio University President Claude Sowle gave an order to clear the hall, and at 3:30 a.m., protesters were told they needed to leave the building by 4 a.m. or be arrested, according to a May 10, 1972, Post report.

About 170 protesters left by 4 a.m., and the remaining 77 were arrested. Also that night, nearly 1,000 people gathered at the intersection of Court Street and Union Street. They were urged to move back to the "main green" after students built a bonfire and broke a window.

Sowle later said administrators considered three alternative options, some of which would have allowed the protesters to remain in Lindley, but decided that asking the students to leave was in the best interest of the university, according to a May 11, 1972, Post report.

Two years earlier, on Jan. 29, 1970, about 150 students occupied Cutler Hall for more than an hour after they protested a fee increase in front of Haning Hall, across from what is now Bromley Hall. They demanded that Sowle leave his office and meet with them. The fee increase for the 1970-71 academic year was set to cost in-state students $30 more per year and out-of-state students $180 a year, according to a Jan. 30 Post report. 

At one point, about 300 students marched to Cutler in a “near riot,” according to the report.

The next day, up to 300 students returned and gathered in the entrance of Cutler Hall. They started breaking windows, and a fire broke out. 

“It is unfortunate that a mere handful of students can interfere with the normal operations of the university,” Sowle said, according to The Presidency of Claude R. Sowle by Robert Mahn. 

Later that year, in April, eight women and one man were arrested for disrupting an ROTC class in Scripps Hall, then called Carnegie Hall. University security officers asked them to leave, citing the rights of the students and the professor of the class and saying that the people were trespassing.

When the people didn’t leave, security officers escorted them out of the classroom. Though they were not being verbally disruptive, the professor, Stanley White, said the people's presence created an “overcrowded situation,” according to an April 23, 1970, Post report.

The next month, on May 5, about 3,000 students peacefully gathered in Grover Center to discuss the shootings at Kent State University, during which four Kent State students were killed, nine were injured and campus was closed. Sowle pleaded for nonviolence in the wake of the incident. 


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