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'Free speech zone' a misnomer

Oct. 1, 2007
From staff reports

A student protest on Friday and one last winter addressed the issue of what rally participants have erroneously dubbed "free speech zones." The issues relate to the university policy titled Use of Outdoor Space on the Athens Campus, which sets guidelines for outdoor events on campus.

The policy (24.016) states: "Ohio University will allow protest and other expression as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States at or near programs, events, or other activities on its property so long as such protest is not disruptive to any university activity."

In addition to this commitment, the policy makes available 22 spaces that can be reserved for events including protest or other expression. That portion of the policy has led some to mistakenly believe that protest is limited to those 22 spaces.

"That part of the policy is for preplanned events. If a student organization or university department wants to hold a event on campus, they need to reserve a space in any of the 22 spaces," said Rich Carpinelli, associate vice president for student affairs. "This allows us to balance the interests of different constituents on campus. In particular, we want to make sure events on campus don't interfere with the university's academic mission and the rights of others within the university community.

"It's not to quell speech," Carpinelli said of the policy. "The entire campus is a free speech zone. University groups and individuals may express themselves as they wish as permitted by the Constitution."

According to Graduate Student Senate President Dominic Barbato, who was not present at Friday's rally, a committee representing Students for a Democratic Society, Student Senate and Graduate Student Senate drafted a document suggesting changes to the policy. They presented it last May to Terry Hogan, then-dean of students, and Kent Smith, vice president for student affairs.

Administrators have not yet issued a formal response to the document. Barbato speculated that the delay was due to Hogan's departure. Barbato met with Smith the day before and the morning of the rally to discuss the issue.

"Dr. Smith said he will have a response to us, so that we can keep working, within the next two weeks," Barbato said in an e-mail.

Smith confirmed that he expects to have a response to the amendments suggested by the SDS, Student Senate and Graduate Student Senate within the next two weeks.

"We want to work with students and others to review our policy on this matter and consider suggestions for changing our approach to reserving campus outdoor spaces," Smith said.

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Published: Jul 20, 2006 3:50:00 PM
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