At The Ohio State University, Student Newspaper Highlights “Red Light” Status, FIRE’s Work

By on January 22, 2009

An independent student newspaper at The Ohio State University (OSU) has published an article today highlighting the fact that FIRE has classified OSU as a "red light" school and discussing FIRE’s work on campus.

In this month’s edition of The Sentinel, OSU student and Campus Freedom Network Member Debbie Bitzan writes:

As the largest university in the nation, one could only hope that The Ohio State University would be an open canvas for academic and intellectual exchange, as well as a free zone for sharing opinions, ideas, and values. However, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Ohio State is preventing such an open environment from existing. According to its website, TheFIRE.org, FIRE works to "defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities." Some of the rights mentioned are freedom of speech, due process, and legal equality, "the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity." Unfortunately, Ohio State has earned a "red-light" classification from FIRE, identifying the school as having at least one policy which violates freedom of speech.

Bitzan points out that FIRE named OSU our Speech Code of the Month in September of 2007, emphasizing the problems with the Office of University Housing’s Diversity Statement. Since that classification, OSU has substantially revised this statement, replacing unconstitutionally vague prohibitions ("Words, actions, and behaviors that inflict or threaten infliction of bodily or emotional harm, whether done intentionally or with reckless disregard, are not permitted,") with more clearly aspirational language.

Bitzan also interviews Brandon about the role of FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network in raising awareness among OSU students and their counterparts nationwide about unconstitutional restrictions on speech at campuses across the country. Brandon explains why knowing one’s rights on campus is important:

"I can certainly understand when students don’t give their rights on campus a second thought, but it’s simply too important an issue to wait until you are a victim of an unconstitutional policy," Stewart says, reflecting on his own time spent on campus. Further, he suggests that students "be familiar with your school’s policies, especially on your rights during judicial hearings."

Finally, Bitzan concludes by asking her fellow Buckeyes to work to reform OSU’s policies and urging them to check out FIRE’s website for themselves and to order free copies of FIRE’s Guides. She writes:

Although it is important for students to protect themselves and learn about university regulations, it is more important that they look to the future and consider what the ramifications of attending a university which has unconstitutional policies are. Working to reform these violations of liberty should be the number one priority of students and faculty members, especially given the consequences of suppressing speech and ideas. Ohio State is an immense and great force in the nation’s academic realm. Like any institute of higher learning, it should uphold the rights upon which it was founded, rather than creating obstacles for communication and the free exchange of ideas.

We certainly second that sentiment, and we thank The Sentinel for shedding much-needed light on the subject of constitutional rights at the nation’s largest university.

Schools: The Ohio State University