Monday, February 27, 2023

Small: OSU embracing worrisome policies

OSU embracing worrisome policies
By Jonathan Small

There’s a reason the phrase, “It’ll never happen here,” is often filed under the category of “famous last words.”

Those who have assumed campus radicalism is concentrated in coastal universities or, in a worse-case scenario, at one particular state college, are now learning otherwise.

It’s long been common knowledge that the University of Oklahoma has eagerly plunged into the toxic waters of “woke” policies that have devastated higher education nationwide, but many assumed OU was an outlier in Oklahoma.

Sadly, a recent lawsuit filed against Oklahoma State University indicates that school is also merrily jogging down the same path.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court, civil-rights organization Speech First argued that OSU’s harassment, computer, and bias-incidents policies violate students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The complaint said OSU has “created a series of rules and regulations that deter, suppress, and punish speech about the political and social issues of the day. These restrictions disregard decades of precedent.”

Speech First noted OSU’s “harassment” policy disciplines students who engage in speech that “threatens” another student’s mental health. Speech First said the policy “gives students no details about what the University considers ‘abusive’ or ‘intimidating’ and covers a wide swath of protected speech.”

Furthermore, students can be punished for apathy or acquiescence “in the presence of prohibited conduct.” Put simply, if you don’t object to someone else’s speech, you can be declared a harasser, even if you said nothing offensive.

Speech First also noted OSU’s bias-incidents policy defines “bias” broadly and students can be disciplined for incidents that occur off campus, including “incorrect name or pronoun usage.”

The three students represented by Speech First self-describe as conservatives and say OSU has created an environment where open discussion of issues cannot occur, including on issues such as abortion, immigration, and “systemic” racism.

But, most notably, all three say their belief that men cannot become women (or vice-versa) or general skepticism about a supposed “gender spectrum” are among the basic ideas effectively banned from public discussion at OSU.

The complaint stated, “These students want to engage in speech covered by the University’s harassment policy, computer policy, and bias-incidents policy, but they credibly fear that the expression of their deeply held views will be considered ‘biased,’ ‘harassing,’ ‘unwarranted,’ ‘intimidating,’ and the like.”

To no one’s surprise, OSU is fighting the lawsuit. But when Speech First sued other colleges over similar alleged constitutional violations, Speech First won in court, including at the University of Texas, the University of Michigan, and the University of Central Florida.

Regardless of how the lawsuit plays out, the OSU policies highlighted by Speech First show that those who believed such nonsense would never happen “here” now have good reason for doubt.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.


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