Two Ohio universities adopt free speech policies following new state law

The universities updated their free speech policies to include a submission form for students and faculty to file complaints regarding free speech violations.

The policies put the universities in standing with a new Ohio law that requires all state institutions to provide a reporting system for speech infringement.

Two Ohio universities recently updated their free speech policies to remain compliant with new state standards that went into effect in July. 

The Board of Trustees for Ohio State University (OSU) and Ohio University (OU) adopted the individual policies during board meetings on Aug. 18.

Each policy reaffirms the universities’ commitment to respecting freedom of speech on campus, and provides a submission form where students and faculty can report violations of their speech on campus. 

[RELATED: 1A lawyers brief students on free speech rights ahead of the fall semester]

The OU policy was temporarily enacted on July 22 and states that “[n]o employee of Ohio university may suppress, restrict, limit, or otherwise hinder the constitutional right to free speech of a student, student group, or faculty member.”

Additionally, the policy links to a “Freedom of Expression Incident Form” where students can “submit a complaint about an alleged violation by an Ohio university employee.” 

Reports can also be made via email, phone, mail, or in-person to the Equity and Civil Rights Compliance (ECRC) office.

OSU Senior Director, Media Relations, Media & PR Benjamin Johnson confirmed to Campus Reform that the policy was updated to remain compliant with Senate Bill 135, which went into effect July 21 and requires public universities in the Buckeye State to adopt a formal complaint system where violations can be collected and investigated.

The OSU policy also states that speech violations must have been made by an employee of the university, and includes specific examples including “a penalty imposed on a student’s grade for an assignment or coursework” on account of the students’ viewpoint rather than academic quality.

Conservative students have alleged that professors may engage in viewpoint discrimination when grading assignments, especially when an assignment reflects political ideology. 

Last semester, multiple students at the University of Mount Union, Ohio, blew the whistle on an education professor that allegedly docked points on assignments where students spouted opinions that were opposite of what “the professor wanted to hear.”

Campus Reform spoke with bill sponsor Senator Jerry Cirino following its enactment, in which he said that he would be “watching very carefully” to ensure administrators abide by the law. 

In the meantime, Cirino told Campus Reform he is “delighted” that universities are beginning to take additional action to safeguard free speech.

“I’m delighted that [universities are] following the intent of the legislature of Ohio and also protecting the free speech rights of both students and faculty,” Cirino said.

[RELATED: University pays $30K in free speech lawsuit]

Campus Reform has reported on the extensive lengths universities have gone to reign in free expression on campus.

Last semester, both Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus (IUPU) and Colorado State University (CSU) posted signs around school property that warned students about free speech.

IUPU’s sign warned students they were entering a free speech area of campus and advised them to either avoid the area or prepare to “engage in a civil manner.”

CSU’s sign provided students with an extensive list of resources students can utilize if they are “affected” by a free speech event.

At the University of Iowa, mandatory free speech faculty training became a double-edged sword after it taught attendees to identify speech that “needs to be reported” should it contradict university “policy or values.”

Campus Reform contacted OU for comment and will update accordingly.

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