More than a week after more than 100 people marched in protest of Ohio University’s interim “Freedom of Expression” policies, OU President Duane Nellis announced an 11-member advisory committee that will help decide the policies’ futures.
The committee will review public feedback submitted during the month-long comment period, and develop a “guiding set of principles,” which will act as the basis for the revised policy, according to a campus-wide email from Nellis and interim Executive Vice President and Provost David Descutner.
“We created this group to evaluate the comments we received, but also to map a pathway forward in keeping with our commitment to shared governance,” Nellis wrote. “The individuals who will serve Ohio University on this advisory group represent the breadth of discussion needed on this important matter.”
Each member of the advisory group represents a different university constituency. It includes presidents and chairs from each of the university’s five senates, as well as OU Police Department Chief Andrew Powers, Baker Center Executive Director Dusty Kilgour, legal affairs representative Grant Garber, Department of History Chairwoman Katherine Jellison and university Spokeswoman Carly Leatherwood.
It will be led by Scripps College of Communication Dean Scott Titsworth.
In an Oct. 20 email to OU General Counsel John Biancamano — who drafted the policies — Titsworth provided both his “professional and personal opinions” about the policy, as well as feedback received from alumni, faculty and students.
“While it is not my impression that the policy was meant to limit the free exchange of ideas through impromptu dialogue by students, faculty, and staff, the wording of the policy (particularly C/4) easily leads to the perception that speech is being unnecessarily limited,” Titsworth wrote.
Section C.4 of the policy, which prohibits “demonstrations, rallies, public speech-making, picketing, sit-ins, marches, protests, and similar assemblies” in university buildings, has sparked debate and dissent from the OU senate floors to the steps of the Athens County Courthouse. In his comments, Titsworth advocated for the elimination of the section and said the policy should “err on the side of protecting free speech.”
“My belief is that the policy should allow any mode of expression and should place restrictions only on acts that violate principles behind the balance of free speech and public good,” Titsworth wrote. “Broad rights to speech help disadvantaged groups promote change, provides a safety-valve for frustrations, promotes dialogue, and encourages better decision-making, among many other benefits.”
Titsworth’s comments provided a number of suggestions for revising the policy, including changes to a section, which attempts to define what constitutes a “disruption.”
“I realize this is a challenging issue to address,” Titsworth wrote. “I also realize that those who have worked most closely on this policy have the best of intentions to promote vibrant speech on campus.”