‘It’s an atrocious bill.’ Students and professors rally against massive Ohio higher education bill

Senate Bill 83 has drawn significant backlash from students and university staff during opponent testimony.

By: - May 4, 2023 4:50 am

About 20 people protested against Senate Bill 83 outside of the Statehouse on May 3, 2023. (Photo by Megan Henry for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

“Ethnic studies are under attack. What do we do?”

Stand up, fight back!

“Student orgs are under attack. What do we do?”

Stand up, fight back!

“Gender studies are under attack. What do we do?”

Stand up, fight back!

A chorus of these chants echoed in front of the Statehouse Wednesday as part of a rally to protest a controversial higher education bill that would drastically alter Ohio universities. 

About 20 people braved the unseasonal cold temperatures to speak out against Senate Bill 83 which would, among other things, ban programs with Chinese schools, ban mandatory diversity training, prohibit university staff and employees from striking, require American history courses, and mandate tenure evaluations based on if the educator showed bias or taught with bias. 

“It is also known as the higher education destruction act,” said Maria Vitória de Rezende Grisi, a second year Ph.D. student at Ohio State University who helped organize the rally. “This bill is very contradictory because it’s about freedom of speech, but it’s deciding what we can speak in class and what we can do in the university.” 

SB 83, which was introduced in March by state Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, comes at a time when enrollment at Ohio colleges and universities is declining. Ohio university main and regional campuses and community colleges have both seen a 12% decrease in enrollment from Fall 2022 to Fall 2012, according to the Ohio Department of Higher Education. 

SB 83 is a work in progress,” Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday morning when asked if he supports the bill. “I have not seen the latest version.”

Some college students have previously said they would leave Ohio if SB 83 becomes law.

What else is in SB 83? 

SB 83 mainly impacts public schools, but would also require private schools that want to use public funds to sign paperwork saying they are following free speech guidelines. 

Under SB 83, colleges and universities would have until July 2024 to adhere to “post-tenure review policies” that start when tenured faculty receives “does not meet performance expectations” evaluations in the same category two years in a row.

It would also rewrite mission statements to include that educators teach so students can reach their “own conclusions.”

There is also a companion bill, House Bill 151, that was introduced by state Rep. Steve Demetriou, R-Bainbridge Twp., and state Rep. Josh Williams, R-Oregon, on April 6. 

Protestors speak out against SB 83

John McNay, a history professor at the University of Cincinnati, spoke out specifically against the bill’s provisions that would prohibit programs with China and ban faculty strikes.

“You can’t have students who are competitive on an international scale without giving them that international experience, so this would block all of that,” he said. “It would destroy all of those programs. It would cripple our ability to have contact with Chinese students.”

He also called the bill’s anti-strike language a “brutal attack on Ohio’s labor movement.”

“For them to now attack the public unions at our universities is reprehensible,” McNay said. “They should not be doing this. … they need to leave our public unions alone.”

Rachael Collyer, program director at the Ohio Student Association, said students do not want SB 83.

“They deserve an education that tackles controversial topics,” she said. “… Students do not want to come to universities that do not value diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Leila Khan, a sociology student at OSU, thinks SB 83 should be killed.

“It’s an atrocious bill that will not help any students,” Khan said. “No part of it helps students or teachers.”

Pranav Jani, the president of Ohio State University’s chapter of American Association of University Professors (AAUP), said he doesn’t see many students supporting SB 83.

“Rather we see students coming out against this bill in the hundreds,” he said.

He said he doesn’t ask his students to repeat and regurgitate his opinions.

“I’m asking them to consider new ideas,” Jani said.

Seven hour committee in opposition to SB 83 

COLUMBUS, OH — FEBRUARY 08: State Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, during the Ohio Senate session, February 8, 2023, in the Senate Chamber at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

SB 83 has drawn significant backlash from students and university staff during opponent testimony.

People testified in opposition for more than seven hours against SB 83 during a marathon Senate Workforce and Higher Education committee meeting three weeks ago. More than 500 people submitted opponent testimony and a little more than 100 people were actually able to testify. 

Senator Cirino said after the committee meeting that changes and clarifications were needed, but he was unable to give specific examples except that the bill would be less vague on who determines what bias is. 

Ohio State University releases statement on SB 83

Ohio State University Board of Trustees Chair Hiroyuki Fujita and OSU administrators met with Cirino to share their concerns and suggest changes to the bill, according to a statement  the university released Monday

“Since the introduction of Senate Bill 83 last month, Ohio State has engaged faculty, staff and students in a comprehensive review of the bill’s provisions,” the statement said. “This review identified many serious and significant concerns related to academic freedom, as well as the university’s academic mission, research enterprise, medical center and the operations that support these critical functions.”

Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on Twitter.



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Megan Henry
Megan Henry

Megan Henry is a reporter for the Ohio Capital Journal and has spent the past five years reporting in Ohio on various topics including education, healthcare, business and crime. She previously worked at The Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network.