A new law in Ohio includes provisions on how colleges and universities can regulate speech for students, faculty, and staff. How these new regulations will work in practice remains to be seen.
Schools around the state are currently revising their handbooks and policies to conform to the new law. Students, faculty members, and staff members at Ohio colleges and universities should be aware of how this law could affect their education and career.
Background of Law
Known as the Ohio Higher Education Reform Bill before becoming law, it follows a 2020 law intended to protect free speech on Ohio's college and university campuses. Despite guaranteeing some free speech rights, it allows schools to pass any policies and regulations restricting free speech as long as they do not violate the U.S. or Ohio Constitutions.
The new law includes guidelines for what colleges and universities may be able to regulate:
- Time, place, and manner restrictions
- Restricting the use of a state institution's property
- Content restrictions, if based on educational reasons
- Prohibiting or limiting events and assembles that are not protected by either Constitution
- Students have no right to disrupt events occurring in public forums
Members of college and university communities are in an uncertain position. If a student disrupts an event occurring in a public area of a college, for example, what is the line between protected and unprotected disruption under Ohio's new law?
Rules for Faculty
Under the new law, each school's board of trustees has to create a process to report allegations of employee violations of free speech laws. The law covers both faculty and staff members.
The new law empowers Ohio's Chancellor of the Department of Higher Education to create and adopt standards for faculty and staff free speech complaints. In September 2022, the Chancellor's office released its initial standards, which propose a procedure for investigating complaints against members of the faculty and staff.
These new standards also recommend including policies that ban retaliation against the person who filed the complaint and annual training on the state's free speech rules.
The University of Cincinnati provides an example of how schools are applying the new law. The university's web page includes a page on free speech that has the relevant parts of the law and links for reporting faculty and staff members.
The University of Cincinnati plans to follow the Chancellor's standards. Complaints against faculty members are referred to the Office of the Provost, while those against staff members are referred to human resources.
The school includes links for reporting staff and faculty, including the option to make a complaint anonymously. The policy also states that disciplinary action may extend to dismissal of an accused employee.
Experienced Legal Advisors
How Ohio and its public colleges and universities use these new regulations remain to be seen. A new law always involves a level of uncertainty. For those who fall under the law, this ambiguity can make it difficult to know how to act or what to say.
If you're a student, faculty, or staff member at an Ohio college or university and you're facing disciplinary action as a result of this new law, hiring experienced legal representation is crucial. You're potentially wading into untested waters, and you should have legal counsel who can provide guidance. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Student Defense Team have unparalleled experience nationwide in defending the rights of individuals against colleges and universities. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or online.