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Advisory panel formed to review speech-policy input

Ohio University President Duane Nellis and the university’s interim provost announced Monday the creation of a new presidential policy advisory group charged with reviewing feedback on the university’s interim “freedom of expression” policies. The advisory group will go through what likely will be a substantial number of questions, concerns, comments and recommendations for change sent to the university in the last two months since the university announced the controversial “freedom of expression” and “use of outdoor space” policies. The “expression” policy in particular has generated ample criticism of OU, partly because of its language that that bans “demonstrations, rallies, public speech-making, picketing, sit-ins, marches, protests and similar assemblies” within university buildings.

Both policies were condemned as “unconstitutional” by the ACLU of Ohio in late October, though the university through a spokesperson has said it “disagrees” with some of the ACLU’s conclusions in its statement on that matter (the spokesperson at the time didn’t specify what the university disagrees with). OU spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said Monday that the interim policies will remain in effect until the university adopts a “final policy.” The advisory group has the following members, according to a release from the university sent out Monday:

o Scott Titsworth, dean of the Scripps College of Communication, and convener of the advisory group. o Landen Lama, president of Student Senate o Maria Modayil, president of Graduate Student Senate o Jacqueline Wolf, Faculty Senate representative. o Jessica Wingett, chair of Administrative Senate.

o Sharon Romina, chair of Classified Senate. o Katherine Jellison, chair of the OU Department of History. o Grant Garber, representative of OU Legal Affairs. o Andrew Powers, chief of the OU Police Department. o Dusty Kilgour, executive director of Baker University Center. o Carly Leatherwood, senior director of communications services with University Communications and Marketing, who is an “ex-officio” member of the committee, according to the release. According to the release, the group comprises a “broad range” of representatives of university constituencies.

“The Advisory Group will be asked to review the history and culture of activism, expression and free speech at Ohio University, and incorporate legal and safety standards needed to uphold free speech and expression on the university’s campuses,” the release explains. The group will be charged with developing a “guiding set of principles” upon which a revision of the policies will be based, and also will identify “elements that should be incorporated” into the revised version of the policy, according to the release. The NEWS has previously reported that the university has said a decision by a local judge to find dozens of students not guilty of trespassing in Baker Center during a large protest last February was one prompt for the university to implement the policy over the summer, as was the violent white supremacist/nationalist protest in Charlottesville.

Still, online records suggest that the university’s general counsel was behind the push to implement the interim policy (which was put in place without input from faculty, students or staff), with Nellis and interim Provost and Vice President David Descutner rubber-stamping the measure prior to Fall Semester beginning. OU President Duane Nellis said in the release that the group’s formation is an important step. “We created this group to evaluate the comments we received, but also to map a pathway forward in keeping with our commitment to shared governance,” Nellis said. “The individuals who will serve Ohio University on this advisory group represent the breadth of discussion needed on this important matter.

Having them all at the table where a consensus will be reached based on the balancing of multiple viewpoints will result in a more robust policy to carry us forward that is a proper representation of the values of the entire Ohio University community.”

Leatherwood said Wednesday morning – in response to an Athens NEWS question – that the university’s usual policy implementation procedures will be followed.

The “executive staff policy committee” will review the policy proposal from the advisory group, which is comprised of the vice president for finance and administration, the executive vice president and provost, the vice president for student affairs and OU’s general counsel, and will recommend the policy for approval from the president (this process was not exactly followed with the initial implementation of the interim policies noted above).

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