Saturday, February 17, 2024

Small: OSU tries to intimidate students

OSU tries to intimidate students
By Jonathan Small

In 2023 a national civil-rights organization that focuses on First Amendment issues, Speech First, sued Oklahoma State University on behalf of three OSU students, arguing the university’s harassment, computer, and bias-incidents policies violate students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The lawsuit did not identify the three students by name. In court, OSU argued the lawsuit should be tossed unless the students were publicly identified.

OSU’s intent with that argument was obvious: to expose students to retaliation if they dared to challenge university policies.

Fortunately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit recently sided with the students and has allowed the case to proceed while protecting student anonymity.

The court’s order noted, “Longstanding and well-established doctrine in the federal courts establishes that anonymous persons may have standing to bring claims.”

This is an important victory for Oklahomans from all walks of life.

The policies being challenged at OSU are sadly typical of the campus insanity seen nationwide.

OSU’s “harassment” policy disciplines students who make allegedly intimidating or threatening statements that impact another student’s mental health, but Speech First notes the policy “gives students no details about what the University considers ‘abusive’ or ‘intimidating’ and covers a wide swath of protected speech.”

OSU’s bias-incidents policy defines “bias” broadly. Students can be disciplined for alleged incidents that “occur on or off campus, including on social media,” including “incorrect name or pronoun usage.” Put simply, if you refer to a man in a dress as “he,” the university may punish you.

Also, OSU allowed complaints about bias to be submitted anonymously. Apparently, OSU officials were fine with anonymous complaints potentially wrecking students’ lives but did a 180 on the topic when the anonymous complaints were lobbed at OSU itself.

Organizations across the political spectrum weighed in, filing amicus briefs in support of student anonymity in the case.

The Chamber of Commerce and American Bankers Association said OSU’s demand to unmask student complainants “threatens to chill core First Amendment speech by exposing associations’ members—such as the businesses the Chamber represents—to government harassment or retaliation.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) noted that the Supreme Court “has often considered claims brought by associations on behalf of anonymous or pseudonymous members.”

OSU’s response to those briefs was telling. The school declared them “burdensome to OSU,” “redundant and repetitive” and “superfluous.”

Students of history may recall that in the 1950s the state of Alabama similarly argued the NAACP should be forced to disclose its members’ names as that group was fighting to overturn racial-segregation laws. You would think college officials in the 21st Century would not be taking their cues from 1950s segregationists, but apparently they do.

OSU students deserve better. And so do Oklahoma taxpayers who are now left asking: What is going on with the leadership at OSU?

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


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