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FIRE: UWO violates First Amendment

Alex Nemec

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UW Oshkosh is the last UW System school with a red light status ranking from Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for not having policies that support or value the First Amendment.

FIRE’s mission statement according to their website is “to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities.” Colleges are rated with a green, yellow or red light based on how their policies reflect First Amendment rights.

Young Americans for Liberty president Jakub Nowak said he agrees with FIRE’s ranking of UWO with the policies written down, but not the University’s actions for handling the issues.

“When it comes to enforcing them, [the University doesn’t,”] Nowak said. “In theory, Oshkosh is pretty fair, but with the policies that are written down, then no, they’re not fair at all. They are pretty strict and they do infringe upon our First Amendment right of freedom of speech.”

Nowak said policies aren’t even supposed to be in the handbook because the UW Board of Regents passed free speech codes that reflect the Chicago statement, and is the code FIRE. enjoys to govern by.

“A lot of the universities in Illinois have a green light, so in theory the universities in Wisconsin should have a green light,” Nowak said. “Yet Oshkosh still has a red light. This thing was passed by the Board of Regents a year ago and we still have a red light and we’re the only public school in the state of Wisconsin that has a red light.”

Director of policy reform Azhar Majeed said UWO has three-upper level violations regarding inclusivity and diversity, harassment and interactions among university members earning them the red light rating.

“Oshkosh maintains three policies that are strictly and substantially restricting First Amendment rights on their campus,” Majeed said. “These policies would absolutely be struck down in court.”

Senior Scott Brugioni said UWO these policies worry him but it won’t affect him as much as underclassmen
“For current students it does pose a problem for them,” Brugioni said. “I can see there being a problem in the future.”

Majeed said he hopes UWO can work on their policies so they can get out of the red light rating and have been in contact.

“After FIRE sent out letters to schools in the red light rating, the University contacted us about fixing the policies,” Majeed said. “Progress has been steady and we hope it continues that way.”

According to Nowak, rolling the beach ball around campus was against a policy in the inclusivity and diversity segment of the handbook, which states the introduction of unwanted gender based, verbal, written or physical conduct into work, learning or living environments is strictly prohibited.

“With that freedom of speech ball a lot of things were written down on there that were very bad, I saw that I was like ‘oh jeez,’” Nowak said. “But that was the point of the freedom of speech ball, you could write whatever you want.”

Nowak said if somebody felt offended the event should have been shut down, and during that event the police were called.

“The police did show up to investigate and they let me continue,” Nowak said. “There was a person from the Dean of Students office who came by and looked at it and they didn’t shut me down. I broke policies and no one shut me down. The goal was to get shut down so these policies can be brought up.”

According to a press release by YAL Wednesday, there will be a protest on UW Madison’s campus today.

“The [YAL] chapter at the University of Wisconsin will hold an organized protest regarding the university’s restrictive speech codes,” the release stated.

Nowak said the protests are demanding the regents to change free speech codes to force universities across the state to do the same.
“It’s all to bring attention to outdated and restricted free speech codes,” Nowak said.

Nowak said he shouldn’t have to go through Oshkosh Student Association, but will if necessary to get the University’s attention.

“I want the school to realize that these policies they have are redundant and stupid, for the lack of a better word,” Nowak said.

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Independent Student Newspaper of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
FIRE: UWO violates First Amendment