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Protesters march by Baker Center during the Y(OU) Can't Silence Dissent rally that took place on Oct. 20, 2017. They were protesting the university's enactment of policies that restrict the use of university property for public protest. 

Newly proposed 'Freedom of Expression' policies define disruption, outline disciplinary action for demonstrations

After months of feedback and deliberation, Ohio University’s Executive Staff Policy Committee announced a new set of proposed “Freedom of Expression” policies Thursday. 

According to the proposed policies, the Ohio University Police Department would have final authority in “resolving issues of public safety,” while academic and administrative managers will be responsible for determining whether an activity is disruptive.

Individuals who violate the proposed policies could be asked to leave, may be subject to institutional discipline and could face arrest and prosecution, according to the proposed policies. 

The proposed indoor spaces policy states that demonstrations are “protected speech” and may take place in indoor spaces, regardless of whether they are spontaneous or reservations have been made. 

Those demonstrations, however, must occur in the Baker Center atrium spaces, empty classrooms, reservable conference rooms and meeting rooms in Baker Center when participants “are permitted to be present. Demonstrations cannot conflict with existing reservations for space, and cannot be ‘disruptive’” to university activities. 

The approved Baker Center atrium spaces would be located on the south end of the building’s third, fourth and fifth floors. Additionally, spontaneous demonstrations in those spaces would be available only to OU students, faculty and employees. Individuals who are not affiliated with the university would have to reserve the spaces. 

The proposed indoor spaces policy would not allow demonstrations in “other types of indoor spaces,” such as hallways and lobbies in academic and administrative buildings such as Cutler Hall and the Baker Center rotunda. Both spaces have been used for sit-ins in recent years. 

The proposed policy also states that activities in indoor spaces cannot “substantially and materially” disrupt university operations. That means demonstrators could not block doors or hallways, or make “sustained loud noise” directly outside a classroom or office during operating hours. Any form of expression in the classroom would not be allowed to impede course-related teaching, learning or discussion, according to the proposed policy. 

Only in extraordinary circumstances would “appropriate university leadership” be able to grant special exceptions to provisions of the policies. Those exemptions, however, must not be based on the content, message or viewpoints of the activities in question. 

Nineteen outdoor spaces, including Emeriti Park, Lindley Park and the west portico of the Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium will be able to reserved under the newly proposed outdoor spaces policy.  

According to a news release from university administration, the committee will review feedback to the proposed policies, make constructive revisions and lead the proposed policies through the rest of the implementation process. 



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