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Alumni groups agree to anti-disparagement clause

An alumni club in Los Angeles gathers to support the Buckeyes. Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State Alumni of Los Angeles

An alumni club in Los Angeles gathers to support the Buckeyes. Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State Alumni of Los Angeles

After an Associated Press story last month highlighted Ohio State’s move to require its various alumni clubs to sign agreements saying they wouldn’t make disparaging comments about the university, all 150 have signed on as of Wednesday, OSU spokesman Chris Davey told The Lantern.

The agreement is part of a new charter between the university and its 50 alumni societies and 100 alumni clubs which includes an anti-disparagement clause.

The groups and societies risk losing eligibility for the $6,000 to $9,000 the university gives to them annually if they make a damaging comment against the university.

The money given to the groups is spent on events, specifically aimed at giving alumni a variety of opportunities for engagement, said Andy Gurd, Associate Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Ohio State University Alumni Association, in a statement on the charter.

As part of the clause, members of the alumni clubs are able to make any comment on their own, but not as a representative of the alumni group in which they are part of.

“Of course, individual members have every right to speak their minds as private citizens, but when representing the university as officers of officially sanctioned organizations, they are serving as ambassadors for Ohio State,” said Gurd. “The charter simply requires that they do so in alignment with Ohio State values and priorities.”

However, the anti- disparagement clause is seen as unfair to some members of alumni groups across the country.

“I am very surprised that they would come to this alumni group of all groups after what happened with the band and Jonathan Waters two years ago,” said Gary Leppla, a band alumnus and board of governors member of the The Best Damn Band In The Land Alumni Club. “I don’t think any alumni group should be told that they should have any kind of limitation of what they say to speak for their members.”

OSU told the AP that the new agreement didn’t have anything to do with Waters firing.

TBDBITL alumni club has agreed to the charter, and Leppla says he is in the minority for feeling this way, but feels it is necessary to speak out and stand up for what he believes is right.

To Leppla, the charter sends a negative message to university students, staff and alumni.

“I can tell you what kind of message it sends to me and many others: If you want to be part of this (university) you better do it our way,” Leppla said.

Leppla said that the Alumni Association was created to be the representative of alumni to solve problems and address issues, but the precedent they are setting with the charter is doing the opposite.

“It’s a matter of branding and control,” Leppla said.  “To me it’s like OSU corporate now.”

Other alumni members see the agreement as something that is a necessity, not an infringement on rights.

Maurice Hall, The Ohio State University Los Angeles Alumni Club President, and former OSU football player, said that as an extension of the university, alumni groups should agree to the charter.

“We can’t make our assumptions from what we see on the outside,” Hall said. “We will continue to follow what the university stands for and the decisions they make, and if we see things we don’t agree with, we will reach out to the university to get a clearer understanding on the decisions they’ve made.”

Hall said that it is his goal to never speak badly about the university, but if there was an instance in which he felt very strongly against something, so long as he had all of the facts, he would confront the issue head-on.

The charter is also making some students uneasy due to the anti-disparagement clause.

“The issue with the charter is that alumni groups are being put in a box of Ohio State, they aren’t acting on their own will, it’s the will of the university,” Jacob Rossi, a third-year majoring in accounting and the family weekends events program coordinator of Student Alumni Council said. “SAC is all about connecting alums to the present climate of the campus and with this charter in place, I feel that there is a disconnect.”

Rossi said that he still plans on joining an alumni group after graduation, but with the charter in effect, feels less enthusiastic in doing so.