Ohio senate bill concerns some local professors

New bill could require new class on American history in college, cut ties with Chinese government and more

A new bill in the Ohio Senate could make fundamental changes to Ohio’s 14 public universities and 24 public community colleges if it is passed.

Those changes include blocking unions at state-funded universities and colleges from striking, severing ties to Chinese government programs and requiring course syllabus to be posted online in a searchable database.

“I consulted with leadership at many of these institutions, and a variety of other experts, to make sure we have a plan that is both practical and ambitious, with the best interests of students as our top concern,” State Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement. “This sweeping and exhaustively detailed legislation is meant to ensure students get what they pay for – a world-class education that will give them top value in the workforce and the tools needed to help them succeed in life.”

Some other issues Senate Bill 83 covers include:

  • State-funded universities, like Wright State University and Miami University, would have to submit a statement to the Ohio Department of Higher Education committing to academic freedom and agree to not require diversity and inclusion courses for students and faculty.
  • Beginning in 2026-2027 school year, students would be required to take a class in American history that included reading the Constitution, some of the Federalist Papers, the Gettysburg Address, Declaration of Independence and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.
  • An overall faculty evaluation for each professor would be public online.

Some local professors say the bill is an intrusion into academic freedom.

“I wonder if this isn’t crossing the line into too much micromanaging,” said Charlie Russo, Panzer Chair in Education & Research Professor of Law at the University of Dayton. “You’ve got to talk about this, you can’t talk about that. It can become a slippery slope.”

Changes in workers’ right to strike

Multiple professors said the bill could prevent workers from negotiating contracts and cause administrative spending at universities to increase.

“This bill is a bureaucratic, big government intrusion into the professional work we do,” said Bobby Rubin, English professor at Wright State and the president of the American Association of University Professors chapter at Wright State. “It is heavy-handed, onerous government regulation. It will create more administrative bloat, and it will cause universities to spend money on bureaucratic paper-pushing instead of on student scholarships and support.”

In 2019, Wright State’s faculty union went on strike for 20 days. It is one of two strikes by university faculty in Ohio in recent years. The other one occurred at Youngstown State University for three days in October 2020.

Russo said striking is one of the cornerstones of the National Labor Relations Act and can bring both sides to the table to form an agreement.

“If the institutions aren’t willing to sit at the table and show where they’re coming from, that really takes away this cherished right to organize and bargain,” he said.

No bias in the classroom

Much of the bill addresses the ability of students to express their views and opinions without fearing retaliation.

The bill specifically says faculty and students should form their own opinions on controversial topics. Mandatory classes on diversity and inclusion would be banned.

Some of the “controversial” topics specifically named in the bill are climate change, electoral politics, foreign policy, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, immigration policy, marriage, or abortion.

Brian Boyd, an education professor and Wright State University’s faculty senate president, said the bill is concerning to him because some of the controversial topics are important to some fields of study. In a constitutional law class, for example, talking about gay marriage and abortion rights would be required to talk about the ninth and 14th amendments to the constitution.

“I’m confused why the legislature, in a bill that claims to want ‘intellectual diversity’ is also trying to limit discussion on topics that might be seen as controversial,” Boyd said.

While Russo said he’s giving the legislators the benefit of the doubt in wanting to put into law that classroom discussions should be free and open, he’s also concerned about a growing trend in the U.S. about states legislating what public universities can and cannot teach.

“One of the things I prize, and I think most of us do at university, is that I have academic freedom,” Russo said. “All I’ve ever been given is a course title. I was never told what I had to cover, per se.”

He said that section of the bill, as it is currently worded, is vague, which could run the bill into legal issues if it is signed into law and challenged in court.

“I think the spirit of it is good,” Russo said. “I think the wording may leave a little bit to be desired.”

Cirino did not return phone calls and emails to his office seeking follow-up.

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