If you’ve been in Ohio for more than 15 minutes during football season, you already know you shouldn’t say anything bad about the Buckeyes.
Now Ohio State is formalizing that gag order on criticism to all its alumni organizations.
Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported the university required its roughly 150 alumni clubs and societies to pledge they wouldn’t make negative comments about the school. If they did, they could be cut off from money and other perks the university provides.
That’s right, that bastion of open minds and creative thoughts that is The Ohio State University doesn’t want anyone hurting its feelings. Surprisingly enough, most clubs agreed to the provision just to keep their cozy relationships cozy.
“Of course, individual members have every right to speak their minds as private citizens,” Andy Gurd, the chief operating officer of the university’s alumni association, told the Associated Press. “But when representing the university as officers of officially sanctioned organizations, they are serving as ambassadors for Ohio State, and the charter simply requires that they do so in alignment with Ohio State values and priorities.”
In other works, speak positively or shut up if you’re an officer of one of these groups.
You can’t criticize how the university handled a situation. If these rules applied before, the TBDBITL Alumni Club, representing alums of the university’s famous band, could have lost its funding and perks, such as marching at football games, if it criticized the firing of the firing of former director Jonathan Waters.
It’s the latest example of colleges trying to control the message. Baylor University in Texas sued its alumni association in 2014 for alleged misuse of the university’s name and trademark. Critics said the university was trying to control the message. The parties settled this year, agreeing to try to better align their missions.
Gurd told the AP you didn’t have to say nice things necessarily, but he saw limits.
“They do not have to say only positive things, in my mind. They have the right to do that under free speech,” he said. “What they can’t do is say something false or misleading.”
The Associated Press notes these “disparagement clauses” are common in trademark agreements. In those cases, you might lose some free speech protections in exchange for your connection to a company or product.
When the product is education itself, the university should learn to have a thicker skin, just like the nuts that are the namesake for the school’s mascot.
It’s a concern, since the whole point of higher education is supposed to be critical thinking and independent thought. In college, you’re taught to evaluate a source, weigh it against your previous learning and apply it to a situation.
The best college professors aren’t the ones who shove one point of view down your throat. They’re the ones that provide multiple sides to an argument and force you to reconsider your beliefs.
The same should be said about the colleges and universities themselves. Ohio State should drop this silly loyalty oath.