The Ohio State University

Location: Columbus, Ohio
Type: Public
Federal Circuit: 6th Circuit

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Speech Code Rating

The Ohio State University has been given the speech code rating Yellow. Yellow light colleges and universities are those institutions with at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application. Read more here.

  • The Ohio State University: Environmental Regulations Invoked to Censor Peaceful Flyer Distribution

    December 13, 2011

    On November 30 and December 6, 2011, students were prevented from peacefully distributing flyers in OSU’s Ohio Union building. The same Ohio Union administrator on both occasions told the students that OSU’s “green zone” environmental policy prohibited distributing paper materials. On the second occasion, the administrator additionally cited the building’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, and told the students that if she allowed them to distribute their flyers, she would have to grant the same privilege to all other OSU student organizations. FIRE informed OSU that the “green zone” designation did not reflect actual OSU policy and […]

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  • The Ohio State University: Refusal to Allow Religious Clubs to Decide Membership Based on Religious Belief

    October 20, 2004

    A coalition of religious groups, including the Muslim Student Association, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the Christian Graduate Student Alliance, Campus Crusade for Christ, Mosaic, Reformed Christian Students, the Christian Medical Dental Association, Student Christian Fellowship, and International Friendships, used religious criteria for decisions regarding group leadership, group message, and, sometimes, group membership at the Ohio State University. Ohio State’s official recognition policy had stated that in order for groups to receive full recognition from the university, they could not "discriminate" on the basis of religion. FIRE wrote to Ohio State President Karen A. Holbrook, pointing out that as a public institution, […]

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Yellow Light Policies
  • Residence Hall Handbook: Residents’ Rights

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: July 11, 2018

    Freedom from harassment, including sexual harassment, as well as threats of intimidation and physical or emotional harm. This includes acts of ethnic or racial intimidation, hazing, or harassment for reasons of race, religion, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, disability, or veteran status.

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  • Bias Assessment and Response Team: Reporting Information

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Bias and Hate Speech
    Last updated: July 12, 2018

    Bias incidents are acts or behaviors motivated by the offender’s bias against age, ancestry, color, disability, gender identity or expression, genetic information, HIV/AIDS status, military status, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or veteran status.

    While these acts do not necessarily rise to the level of a crime, a violation of state law, university policy, or the Student Code of Conduct, a bias act may contribute to creating an unsafe, negative, or unwelcome environment for the victim; anyone who shares the same social identity as the victim; and/or, community members of the University…

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  • University Housing: Flyers and Posters in Residence Halls

    Speech Code Category: Posting and Distribution Policies
    Last updated: July 11, 2018

    All postings must support the educational mission of the University and may therefore not contain information about the following, including but not limited to alcohol; the sale and solicitation of for profit good or services (exceptions may be made for charitable donations); and non-inclusive or biased related material.

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Green Light Policies
  • Code of Student Conduct: Introduction and Purpose

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression
    Last updated: July 12, 2018

    The core missions of the university are research, teaching and learning, and service. Preservation of academic freedom and free and open exchange of ideas and opinions for all members of the university are central to these missions.

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  • Policy 1.15: Sexual Misconduct

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: July 12, 2018

    In the education context, sexual harassment is unwelcome, sex- or gender-based verbal or physical conduct that is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive that it interferes with, denies or limits an individual’s ability to participate in or benefit from the university’s educational programs and activities. … Hostile environment in the education context includes any situation in which there is harassing conduct that limits, interferes with or denies educational benefits or opportunities, from both a subjective (the complainant’s) and an objective (reasonable person’s) viewpoint.

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  • Policy 1.10: Affirmative Action, Equal Employment Opportunity & Non-Discrimination/Harassment

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: July 12, 2018

    (1) Unwelcome, protected class-based verbal or physical conduct that (2) is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive that (3) it unreasonably interferes with, denies, or limits an individual’s ability to participate in or benefit from the university’s education and employment programs and activities; and (4) is based on power differentials (quid pro quo) or the creation of a hostile environment.

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  • Contentious free speech issues cropping up on college campuses

    October 30, 2017

    By Jennifer Smola at the Columbus Dispatch. Ohio State sophomore Alie Frank is used to people speaking their minds on campus… Read more here.

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  • Ten Colleges And Universities Where Free Speech is in Danger

    June 20, 2016

    By Kelly McDonald at The Daily Caller  These popular schools all have one thing in common: they use vaguely-worded policies to prevent the free exchange of ideas, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Below are ten colleges and universities that FIRE has designated “red light” schools. “A red light university has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech,” FIRE explains… Read more here.

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  • On a College Campus? Don’t Try to Tell a Joke

    May 23, 2016

    By Robby Soave at The Daily Beast Tell a joke, and you might make someone laugh. But tell a joke on a college campus, and you might make someone report you to the administration’s Bias Response Team (BRT)—an Orwellian bureau that investigates students and faculty members for saying the wrong thing… Read more here.

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  • Rise of Bias Response Teams at University of Northern Colorado, Across Country Signals Shift in how Universities Deal With Inclusion

    April 25, 2016

    By Tyler Silvy at The Tribune As racial justice and other protests have spread on university campuses across the United States, administrators have learned it’s not enough to say, “We’re listening.”… Read more here.

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  • Phallic Drawing Stimulates Free Speech Debate at University of Delaware (UD)

    April 18, 2016

    By Anthony Hennen at Red Alert Politics A crude drawing on a “free speech ball” has a campus group at the University of Delaware facing scrutiny from anti-harassment rules… Read more here.

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  • Students Say Colleges Should Let Them Judge Sexual Assault Cases

    February 25, 2015

    By Akane Otani at Bloomberg Business Student leaders at 76 U.S. universities are fighting the government for the right to sit on the panels that decide if someone has committed sexual assault on campus. The Department of Education has recommended that students not be involved in this process, but student body presidents at schools across 25 states, including Yale, Brown, and Barnard, say that allowing undergraduates in the room when cases are being decided is fairer for everyone involved. “Students have a modern perspective on sexual assault and campus life that, unfortunately, faculty and staff might not have,” says Celia Wright, […]

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  • Rush Limbaugh Has Become a Key Asset for the Politically-Correct Left

    September 17, 2014

    Hans Bader at Rush Limbaugh can take a winning issue for conservatives and turn it into a loser just by shooting his mouth off. He gives advocates of extreme left-wing policies ammunition for their views by making stupid arguments when smarter arguments exist, and by lacing his arguments with sexism or scurrilous remarks. He did it recently in response to my commentary about Ohio State University’s ridiculously overbroad and intrusive “sexual assault” definition — which seemingly requires students to agree on “why” they are having sex or making out, which is none of the university’s business. And he did it […]

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  • American Universities Are Restricting an Important Right — And Students Are Fighting Back

    July 2, 2014

    By Jenna Kagel at News.Mic A free speech crackdown in modern day America: We expect to hear stories on repressing freedom of speech in countries like Russia, not in the U.S. But right here in the land of the free, American universities, the pillars of protest movements and open dialogue, are suppressing free speech. In response, the first-ever coordinated legal battle against U.S. universities was filed on Tuesday in four states as part of the “Stand Up for Speech” litigation project. Three-fifths of public colleges violate the First Amendment by imposing free speech policies on their campuses. American universities are banning […]

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  • Groups says OSU restricts freedom of speech

    March 5, 2014

    by Collin Binkley at The Columbus Dispatch A poster warning against sexual harassment at Ohio State University led a national group to conclude that the school “substantially restricts freedom of speech.” In an annual ratings publication by the group Fire, which works to protect freedom of speech on campuses, Ohio State was one of 10 schools in the state that earned a “red light” for having at least one policy that limits freedom of speech. Only one Ohio school, Cleveland State University, earned a “green light.” The group dinged Ohio State for a poster by the human-resources office at the school. In big, bold typeface, it […]

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  • Ohio State’s on FIRE

    January 22, 2009

    By Debbie Bitzan at The Sentinel 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,, 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 […]

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  • Do campus tribunals wield too much power?

    March 13, 2006

    By John Higgins at The Beacon Journal A Summit County jury found Charles Plinton not guilty of selling drugs to a confidential informant in 2004. A few weeks later, a University of Akron disciplinary board found him “responsible” for “selling drugs to a confidential informant.” The difference between those two words — guilty and responsible — may not sound meaningful to the average person. But it’s a distinction that begins to explain the secretive world of college justice in which campus committees may re-try the facts of serious crimes after criminal courts have already decided them. Critics see the hearings […]

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  • Campus Left to Christians, Conservatives: Shut Up!

    December 24, 2005

    By Mark Tapscott at Scratch many of the administrators in charge on American campuses these days and you often find a neo-Stalinist who has no hesitation about suppressing views that deviate from leftist orthodoxy. If you doubt me, try supporting Christianity or conservatism in a public way in the ivy covered groves of American academe. Take California State University at San Bernadino, for example, where administrators refuse to charter the Christian Students Association because the group thinks its members should be professing Christians. Imagine that! The group ‘would not be required to admit members who did not support the […]

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  • Students Find Drug Law Has Big Price: College Aid

    May 3, 2001

    By Diana Schemo at The New York Times Correction Appended WASHINGTON, May 2— When a judge pronounced Russell Selkirk guilty of smoking marijuana in a car in December 1999, Mr. Selkirk, a freshman at Ohio State University, thought he left the courtroom knowing his sentence: a $250 fine, suspension of his driver’s license, 20 hours of community service and a year’s probation. But a month later, when Mr. Selkirk applied for financial aid for the coming academic year, he faced another sentence, loss of eligibility for low-interest federal education loans and grants. ”I was amazed,” said the student from Cincinnati. ”It’s […]

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  • On Free Speech, Double Standards, and Professor Mike Adams

    December 2, 2016

    Mike Adams, a professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), is no stranger to controversy. In 2014, Adams won a First Amendment lawsuit alleging that UNCW retaliated against him for his public expression of conservative views. Now, Adams once again finds himself at the center of a debate over the boundaries of free speech—but this time the university appears to be squarely on the side of free speech, and will hopefully stay that way. In September, Adams published an article harshly criticizing a UNCW student who received a visit from the Secret Service after she posted on Facebook […]

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  • More Campus Leaders Address Free Speech Following Election

    November 21, 2016

    For the past few months, we’ve been covering the statements campus leaders make about free speech at their colleges or universities. In the weeks following this month’s presidential election, campus leaders have addressed their students’ reactions to the results in various ways—some “good,” and others “bad” for freedom of expression. The Good Central Washington University (CWU) CWU President James Gaudino made a post-election statement November 9 encouraging his students to continue to “debate and disagree”: President Obama today encouraged us all to move forward with faith in our fellow citizens and urged us all to hold on to our dreams. […]

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  • Administrators Defend Bias Response Teams, But Shy Away From Transparency

    September 15, 2016

    On Monday, Inside Higher Ed published a lengthy defense of “bias response teams”—teams largely composed of administrators and law enforcement who direct a university’s response to reports of offensive language or conduct, usually (but not always) under the guise of educating the offending speakers about the impact of their speech. But the same administrators are unwilling to back up their claims, declining to provide details about how they respond to particular incidents. As Inside Higher Ed’s Jake New reports: Ohio State declined to offer detailed information about the incidents its team has investigated, but Christopher Davey, a spokesman for the […]

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  • Due Process Legal Update: Students’ Title IX and Due Process Claims Move Forward, But Challenges Remain

    March 1, 2016

    As I’ve written about on many previous occasions, there are a large number of ongoing lawsuits by students alleging that through unfair campus sexual misconduct proceedings, their institutions violated their constitutional due process rights, breached contracts, and discriminated against them on the basis of sex. In the past eight days alone, there have been four new opinions issued in cases at Brown University, Cornell University, George Mason University, and The Ohio State University, and all but one of those decisions had favorable results for due process and fair procedure on campus. Notably, two of the favorable opinions come from lawsuits […]

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  • Public Universities Threaten Students Over Controversial Off-Campus Banners

    August 25, 2015

    Public universities must tolerate students’ off-campus speech even when it offends some, or most, of the student body. Recent incidents at Old Dominion University (ODU) and The Ohio State University (OSU) serve as reminders that this is not always what happens. At both universities, students adorned their off-campus residences with signs offering a less than wholesome welcome to new and returning students. The banners at ODU read, “Rowdy and fun – Hope your baby girl is ready for a good time,” “Freshman daughter drop off,” and “Go ahead and drop mom off too.” Signs at an OSU apartment, which were […]

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  • Due Process Advocates Take Critical Look at How Colleges Are Dealing with Sexual Assault Allegations

    September 15, 2014

    With colleges and universities revising their sexual assault policies for the new academic year and legislation on the horizon that could have serious repercussions for campus due process, it is critically important for policymakers to stay committed to protecting the rights of all students. Advocates for due process are stepping up to ensure that as new rules for dealing with campus sexual assault are crafted, key legal principles are not forgotten. To start, higher ed attorney and former college administrator Gary Pavela reminds readers of The Chronicle of Higher Education today that “‘[d]ue process’ is more than a procedural checklist”—it requires […]

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  • The Ohio State University Gets The Law Wrong on FERPA

    November 28, 2012

    The Student Press Law Center’s (SPLC’s) “FERPA Fact” Tumblr is at once humorous and disturbing. It awards a number of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan heads corresponding to the silliness of a university’s misuse of the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to deny a request for information. FERPA is routinely abused by colleges looking for any justification to avoid releasing embarrassing information. You don’t need to take our word for it: this is the view of the man who wrote the law. This week’s “FERPA fact” gets three Arne Duncans, which would cause me to crack a smile […]

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  • Student Newspaper Criticizes University Abuses of FERPA

    June 1, 2009

    An opinion piece published today in The Lantern, a student newspaper at The Ohio State University, decries the tendency on the part of colleges and universities to misuse and abuse the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA). The editorial draws upon a recent report in The Columbus Dispatch, which has also been highlighted in The Chronicle of Higher Education. FERPA was enacted to provide students with confidentiality in their educational records, including student disciplinary records, and to provide students and their parents with access to those records. It is meant to ensure that a student’s educational records […]

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  • Rights in the News: FIRE’s Letter to Obama Hopes to Inaugurate New Era for Speech on Campus

    January 23, 2009

    This past Tuesday, which saw the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, FIRE sent President Obama a letter detailing the violations pervading America’s higher education system, and requesting that the President and his administration join the fight against unconstitutional speech policies that threaten the liberties of millions of students. Phi Beta Cons is just one of the many interested observers waiting to see how the new administration will respond to FIRE’s letter. As a constitutional scholar and a former lecturer on constitutional law, we and many others in the legal and academic communities are […]

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

    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), […]

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  • Unconstitutional ‘Bias Reporting’ Programs: A Nationwide Problem

    November 29, 2007

    This fall, The College of William & Mary launched a Bias Incident Reporting System “to assist members of the William and Mary community—students, staff, and faculty—in bringing bias incidents to the College’s attention.” In its initial incarnation, the system was fraught with constitutional problems, from both free speech and due process standpoints. The system initially allowed for anonymous reporting, providing that “[a] person reporting online may report anonymously by leaving the personal information fields blank.” The definition of “bias” was overbroad and encompassed constitutionally protected expression: “A bias incident consists of harassment, intimidation, or other hostile behavior that is directed […]

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  • Speech Code of the Month: The Ohio State University

    September 6, 2007

    FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for September 2007: The Ohio State University. The Office of University Housing at Ohio State, a public university, maintains a Diversity Statement that severely restricts what students in Ohio State’s residence halls can and cannot say. Students are instructed: “Do not joke about differences related to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, ability, socioeconomic background, etc.” Of the many hundreds of policies FIRE has catalogued over the years, this is the first that flatly instructs students, “do not joke” about controversial topics. As anyone who has ever lived in a dormitory can likely […]

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  • Phi Beta Kappa Should Prove Its Commitment to Free Speech: Part 1

    January 23, 2006

    In November, FIRE wrote a nine-page letter to Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) to urge the prestigious honor society to hold its member institutions to higher standards of free speech and expression. A PBK spokesperson has claimed that “for 225 years we have endeavored to place our chapters only at those American institutions of higher education that share our commitment to freedom of inquiry.” But as FIRE’s letter pointed out, PBK offers membership to a host of institutions that have speech codes that are unconstitutional and have a chilling effect on campus speech. One of the institutions that FIRE highlighted in […]

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  • Religious Liberty and Free Association at LSU: Not a ‘Conservative’ Concern

    March 17, 2005

    Today, FIRE announces a victory for freedom of religion and association at Louisiana State University, where the Muslim Students Association (MSA) recently attained official recognition. The group, which had already been recognized for 30 some years on campus, was unable to re-register for more than a year because it didn’t want to include additional “nondiscrimination” language in its constitution as prescribed by a new university policy. (See “Is ‘Derecognize’ a Word?” for more information about the significance of student organization recognition on campus.) According to students, in 2003 the university began requiring student organizations to explicitly add “religion” and “sexual […]

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  • Victory for Religious Freedom at Ohio State

    October 4, 2004

    COLUMBUS, Ohio, October 4, 2004—The Ohio State University has agreed to change a “nondiscrimination” policy that prohibited religious student organizations from making critical decisions based on religious criteria. The decision came a few weeks after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote to Ohio State on behalf of a broad interfaith coalition of Muslim and Christian student organizations that felt that the policy interfered with the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious freedom and free association. FIRE’s effort coincided with that of the Christian Legal Society (CLS), which had already filed a lawsuit asserting the same claims against Ohio […]

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