OU reverses social media ban on suspended groups amid First Amendment questions

Ohio University placed a temporary ban on certain suspended student organizations from communicating on social media.

A free speech nonprofit told Campus Reform that the restriction doesn’t pass the First Amendment.

Ohio University has reversed a temporary policy banning members of certain suspended student organizations from communicating on social media or any other online application after a free speech nonprofit called them out on the “unconstitutional” policy.

According to a letter sent to OU by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the university sent cease and desist notices to 13 Greek student organizations on campus as well as one campus sports team.  The letters ordered the organizations to “immediately cease and desist all organizational activities,” and to stop any contact on social media between members, as previously noted by Campus Reform.

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“This also includes communication with and among the group via any social media platform or application,” Taylor J. Tackett, the assistant dean of students wrote, according to FIRE. “To reiterate, I expect there to be no other communication with your members, unless it is pre-approved by me.”

The organizations also could not hold any events, formal or informal, and were told that “there is no magic number” in determining what is and isn’t a chapter event. “Use your best judgment,” a “Frequently Asked Questions” letter sent out by the university said.

Originally, the university suspended various Greek organizations and one sports team on campus, resulting in a temporary communication ban imposed by the university after allegations of extensive hazing, according to NBC

The university took one fraternity off campus after hazing allegedly led to a student’s death.

FIRE noted that by the end of October, OU had changed or reversed the order for some of the groups, but as of November 12, when FIRE sent a letter to OU, other organizations were still bound to the original cease and desist restrictions.

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The restrictions placed on the organizations by OU exceeds “the lawful scope of [OU’s] authority under the First Amendment.”

After the organization sent a letter to OU, the school reversed course exactly ten days later. It further told FIRE that the restrictions on organizational communications were restricted but claimed the original ban was “constitutionally lawful” and “appropriate.”

Zachary Greenberg, program officer for the Individual Rights Defense Program at FIRE told Campus Reform that university administrators cannot place these types of restrictions on student expression.

“University administrators may not condition student expression upon their approval — especially discussions on the very same restrictions the college imposes on the students, as was the case here at OU.” Greenberg said.

Greenberg also said that restrictions like the one that OU placed on various student organizations is plainly unconstitutional.

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“Restraints on student group expressive rights wholly divorced from addressing misconduct will not pass First Amendment muster at public universities like OU,” he said.

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