VOICES: SB 83 about well-heeled conservative groups wanting to control education

Editor’s Note: SB 83 was added to the Ohio Senate’s version of the budget, which passed last Wednesday. The budget bill now heads to conference committee and Gov. DeWine has to sign the two-year state budget. Today, hear from a perspective critical of SB 83. In yesterday’s paper, a contributor defended the bill.

In his sponsor testimony on SB 83, Sen. Jerry Cirino said: “This bill is the result of many months of development and over a year of my own research.”

Through the testimony, however, it has been made very clear that Sen. Cirino and his co-sponsors actually know very little about higher ed and, even given the flawed nature of SB 83, they could not have researched or written the bill. The bill has now been forced into the budget bill considered by a conference committee so as to limit further debate amid the widespread resistance to the legislation from faculty, students, and administrations. Even Ohio State University’s board of trustees have asked for the bill to be killed.

So who are the puppet masters seeking to have one political party take over our public colleges and universities and put academic decisions into the hands of political appointees?

A key organization behind this unwarranted attack on our public colleges and universities is the National Association of Scholars (NAS).

Over the years, a number of right-wing foundations have provided NAS with revenue to back the teaching of ideologically-driven — rather than academically-legitimate — approaches to history and politics. This approach doesn’t much reflect new research, the changing world that our students live in, or the knowledge they need to have. NAS has gotten beyond scholarship and is engaged in extremist political advocacy amounting to propaganda that undermines the very education and freedom to learn they claim to champion.

The British writers John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge in their authoritative The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America (Penguin, 2004) have outlined how extremely conservative wealthy individuals have funded this broad ideological attack on contemporary American values and higher ed.

The big funders of NAS — and much of the ideology behind Cirino’s drive against public education — all have connections through a complex web of right-wing causes. One of NAS’s early funders was Joseph Coors, who also doled out monies to establish the Heritage Foundation which more recently was closely tied to the staffing of the Trump administration.

The Sarah Scaife Foundation has regularly funded NAS and some other extremist friends of NAS, including the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute. The Manhattan Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council (responsible for 2011′s union-busting SB 5), both right-wing bill mills, also pick up checks from Scaife. Richard Scaife, an heir to the Mellon family fortune, created the family foundations to invest in right-wing causes. His best known public campaign was his promotion of conspiracy theories involving the Clintons and was behind the “Clinton Body Count” conspiracy.

Another donor to NAS was the John M. Olin Foundation. Olin focused on trying to plant seeds of his ideology in academia. He supported the law and economics program at the University of Chicago and tried to encourage imitators elsewhere. Olin was particularly generous to a “handful of favored scholars,” including Irving Kristol, a journalist and writer who has been dubbed the “godfather of neo-conservatism.”

Another big NAS funder has been the Bradley Foundation. With a fortune made in an electronics company, Harry Bradley was a committed John Birch Society member. The founder of the Birch Society, Robert Welch, was a frequent speaker at Allen-Bradley sales meetings in the late 1950s. Harry Bradley also supported the conservative journal the National Review, contributing both money and articles.

So, Cirino’s planned right-wing takeover of higher ed is not about quality education or bias in academia or helping students. It is all about well-heeled conservative groups wanting to control the education of young Ohioans and impose their own ideological beliefs through Cirino’s bills.

To protect our independent universities, this legislation needs to be killed. Public monies and institutions should never be tools for such a personal vendetta.

John McNay, PhD, is Professor of History at University of Cincinnati.

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