COLUMBUS — A lawsuit challenging Ohio University’s student conduct code alleges administrators violated constitutional free speech rights by telling students not to wear T-shirts bearing a sexually suggestive double entendre, though the school denies that officials made such comments.
The suit against the president and two other administrators was filed Tuesday in federal court in Columbus on behalf of student Isaac Smith. He is in the campus group Students Defending Students, which provides free help for students facing the school’s judicial process.
Group members at an involvement fair in August wore shirts with a phrase that could reference that assistance but also has a lewd connotation. Smith said the slogan was used by the organization in the 1970s.
“It was a throwback slogan that we were bringing back,” he told The Columbus Dispatch.
Members stopped wearing the shirts out of concern they might be disciplined under the conduct code, the newspaper said.
A university spokeswoman said administrators were involved in discussion about whether the shirts were appropriate and whether such attire would “inhibit their efforts to serve other students,” but group members weren’t told not to wear the shirts. She said the students were never threatened with action for misconduct.
“We believe our conversations represented civility in disagreement and that the university administrators acted properly as responsible educators in their handling of this situation,” spokeswoman Katie Quaranta wrote in an email to the newspaper.
The lawsuit seeks to block part of the student code and also seeks monetary damages.
It’s one of several lawsuits targeting campus speech this week that were filed with help from the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.