OHIO – Between refining a policy that prevented student media from contacting administrators and passing a policy that inserted the protection of free speech into the college’s faculty handbook, students and school officials at Ohio University have taken steps to challenge First Amendment restrictions on campus.
At the beginning of the school year, Ohio University’s new president, Roderick McDavis, unveiled his new media procedure, which required the newspaper staff to contact the university public relations department for interviews and comments from school officials, said Matthew Hutton, editor in chief of the Post. Under the new procedure, if the student media needed comments from top-level administrators such as the president and the provost, students would have to contact the university public relations department. Hutton said “the staff agreed to give it a try.” The Post is funded through advertising fees and the university’s Division of Student Affairs.
Hutton said that three weeks into the school year it was clear the new media procedure was not working. Department officials throughout the university were refusing to talk to the student press, he said.
“I don’t think they absolutely intended for it to be a gag order, but I think when you have a procedure or policy like this it has the potential to be abused,” Hutton said.
Hutton wrote a letter to McDavis, citing examples of how the student media had trouble communicating with the campus police, campus dining and residence life officials – departments the newspaper staff was supposed to be able to contact. The president agreed to monitor this procedure so that the administrative representative would speak only for top level administrators.
Hutton said the situation is improving, but there is still work to be done. “It’s gotten better,” Hutton said. “We would still prefer it to be like last year where we could call up any administrator we needed and they would feel comfortable to talk to us.”
“Students were really active in riling the cage of everybody involved,” Art Professor Carolyn Cardenas said. “They were key to having the policy rescinded.”
Around the same time, professors temporarily shut down an anti-war art exhibition in the library, saying the exhibition did not present the other side.
In response Cardenas drafted a proposal create a free speech policy at Ohio University. Cardenas said she knew she had “opened up a can of worms” by challenging the university to protect free speech. But she said she was willing to take that risk.
“This was a can of worms I was prepared to go fishing with,” Cardenas said.
Cardenas and other members of the faculty proposed a resolution to the faculty senate on Oct. 18. The resolution states that the following language will be inserted into the faculty handbook: “Ohio University supports the principles of free speech in all its form and without censorship.”
The faculty will vote on the censorship resolution for the faculty handbook on Jan. 3, Cardenas said.
Cardenas said her resolution has been met with an “outpouring of support” from the community.
“[The process has] shined light on weaknesses in the system,” Cardenas said.