Higher Education, Law & Principles

OCPA praises court for protecting students from OSU retaliation

February 12, 2024


OKLAHOMA CITY (February 12, 2024)—Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs President Jonathan Small today praised an order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit that preserves the right of students to challenge the constitutionality of Oklahoma State University policies without being identified by name.

“The idea that the constitutionality of a university’s policies cannot be challenged in court unless students are identified by name is obvious nonsense given longstanding practice,” Small said. “OSU’s intent with their argument was obvious: to subject students to retaliation if they dare to challenge university policies.”

Speech First sued OSU in 2023, saying the university’s harassment, computer, and bias-incidents policies violate students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Speech First represented three OSU students in the lawsuit but did not identify the students by name.

Speech First noted OSU’s bias-incidents policy defines “bias” broadly and students can be disciplined for alleged incidents that “occur on or off campus, including on social media,” including “[i]ncorrect name or pronoun usage.”

In its order allowing the lawsuit to proceed while preserving student anonymity, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit noted, “Longstanding and well-established doctrine in the federal courts establishes that anonymous persons may have standing to bring claims.”

“In the 1950s, the state of Alabama similarly argued that the NAACP should be forced to disclose its members’ names at a time when that group was fighting to overturn racial-segregation laws,” Small said. “You would think that college officials in the 21st century would not be taking their cues from 1950s segregationists, but apparently they do. Fortunately, the court saw this nonsense for what it was and are allowing this important lawsuit to proceed without subjecting students to potential retaliation.”