A student defense group called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) recently applauded Ohio University administrators for reversing what the group is calling an “unconstitutional directive muzzling fraternity members.”
The issue stems from a directive issued by OU administrators to members of OU student groups called to cease and desist activity during investigations into possible criminal charges related to hazing.
Over a dozen student organizations were targeted this fall by the university as it cracked down on alleged hazing. The groups included nine Interfraternity Council chapters, three Panhellenic sororities, three professional fraternities, the Marching 110 band and the men’s rugby club.
Many of the organizations have had restrictions lifted as the investigations are resolved, but some have had disciplinary probations or reprimands handed down. Those which have received disciplinary probation are the fraternities ACACIA and Lambda Chi Alpha, as well as professional fraternities Alpha Kappa Psi and Phi Chi Theta.
Those which have received reprimands are Theta Chi and Delta Tau Delta, and Theta Tau Engineering Fraternity remain under conduct review alongside Interfraternity Council chapters Alpha Epsilon Pi, Phi Kappa Psi and Sigma Chi, in addition to the Marching 110 band.
Part of the initial wave of the investigation involved issuing cease and desist orders to the student organizations, ordering the members and others involved (such as potential pledges) to not communicate with one another, as well as not hold any official or unofficial events.
The student defense group FIRE claims these cease and desist orders were “unconstitutional,” stating in a Nov. 12 letter to OU President M. Duane Nellis that “OU has exceeded the lawful scope of its authority under the First Amendment” through the cease and desist orders. The restrictions were lifted Nov. 22, according to FIRE. OU spokesperson Carly Leatherwood confirmed that they had been lifted.
She noted that the restrictions had been lifted nearly a month in advance of that date. The university responded to FIRE in a letter on Nov. 22 written by legal council.
“In short order, the University assessed the allegations and either lifted or significantly modified the restrictions for most of the organizations within a few weeks,” the university wrote. “Further, the University removed the previously posted FAQs from its website and clarified with all the organizations that any limited restriction on communication previously imposed had been lifted.”
FIRE called this a win, writing “OU’s decision shows that when students stand up for their speech rights, administrators listen.”
OU did not issue direct comment on the matter of constitutionality, but did write in the response to FIRE that “while not agreeing with your premise that the original directives were constitutionally infirm, we believe the remaining restrictions are both appropriate and lawful.”