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Ohio University Clamps Down On Campus Protests. Alumni Aren't Happy

Robert Green/WOUB
Seventy protesters were arrested during the February 1 rally. Charges against 55 of them were dropped.

Some Ohio University graduates are trying to get school administrators to rescind a new “Freedom of Expression” policy, which critics say will have a chilling effect on campus speech.

The policy, which has been in the works for much of this year and was officially put into place as an interim policy on September 5, bans protests and rallies inside of university buildings without protesters first reserving space through the university.

It follows a February rally opposing the policies of President Trump in which 70 people were arrested. Charges against 55 of the protesters were eventually dropped.

“We feel, that to have a top-notch university, you need to have more free speech, not less,” says Andrea Tortora, an Ohio University graduate.

Tortora is among a group of former writers for the student newspaper The Post who are asking the university to rescind the new policy.

“The university, as a whole, has a very long tradition going back to the 1960s and later of honoring freedom of expression and students’ rights to share their opinions,” Tortora says.

Tortora says Ohio University’s renowned journalism program has long made it a mission to uphold the First Amendment, which she feels will be tarnished by the new protest limitations.

Ohio University officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this story.

“Through the adoption of a permanent policy, the University intends to memorialize our institution’s commitment to the free exchange of ideas and First Amendment principles while ensuring the safe operation of our campus," the school said in a press release.

Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union have also expressed reservations about the new OU policy. They say university officials have a right to regulate the learning environment, but this policy could lead to unequal treatment and school officials breaking up events they see as critical of the university.

Administrators are asking for public feedback on the interim policy until October 6, after which they may make revisions.

At Ohio State University, it’s a common practice for marches to start on outdoor portions of campus and culminate in Bricker Hall, which houses the offices of Ohio State president Michael Drake.

Campus speech has been a divisive topic around the country in recent months, with massive rallies and subsequent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia and Berkeley, California.

A bill now under consideration in the Ohio Legislature would ban universities from dis-inviting guests based on potential reaction. It would also make student activity fees optional.