Southern Oregon University allegedly threatens students handing out Constitutions

Students wanted to hand out Constitutions in an area designated by the university as a "residential zone."
By Gabrielle Levy  |  Oct. 16, 2014 at 12:16 PM
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ASHLAND, Ore., Oct. 16 (UPI) -- Four students at Southern Oregon University claim they were threatened by campus officials while protesting the school's free speech policies.

The students were passing out copies of the Constitution and asking for signatures on a petition to end SOU's "free speech zone" policy, which limits protests to one spot on campus. They say they were targeted because of their affiliation with Students for Concealed Carry, a new group advocating for gun rights on college campuses.

"We encountered wild accusations that because the event was affiliated with SCC, there was legitimate fear for the imminent danger of students on campus," student Stephanie Keaveney told Campus Reform, which also obtained video of the indecent. "Administrators accused us of causing an immediate panic for the safety of students in the face of gun violence, or the promotion of such."

She said campus officials told them they had received a complaint from another student, but denied being approached by anyone other than university personnel.

The students claimed the university staff threatened to call police or otherwise bring disciplinary action if they did not stop their demonstration.

But a spokesman for the university said students were only asked to relocate, not forced or threatened.

"[The students] were not forced to move to the free speech zone, nor were they prevented from continuing to hand out their literature," said Ryan Brown, Southern Oregon University's Head of Community and Media Relations.

Keaveney confirmed that they had not been approached by city police, nor had they faced action from the university. Brown said the school has no intention to take any action against the students.

In videos obtained by Campus Reform, director of university housing Tim Robitz can be heard asking the SCC students to move their protest elsewhere.

"I would very much like you to leave, if you would, please, because the students have the right to be able to come by here without you guys, you know, invading their space and asking them to do something," he says in the video.

The university considers the spot where SCC was protesting a "residential area" because of its proximity to several dorms.

Robitz also can be heard telling the SCC students that he would prefer they explain both sides of the issue to the people they asked for signatures.

"Well I just think if you're going to ask someone to sign a petition, it's always helpful if you're explaining both sides of the petition -- why the policy exists is certainly useful as opposed to saying 'we want this,'" Robitz says.

He adds that he'd be willing to sit down with SCC to consider SOU's free speech policies.

"There's a number of reasons why [the policy] exists and I think we need to look at all those -- good, bad, and indifferent -- because it's not just about the free speech of students," he says. "When you open it up to free speech that means anyone anywhere can come on here and do that and that might create some other challenges for this campus that we're not prepared to manage."

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