A college student raises his hand during class discussion. Getty Images.
New versions of the identical, massive higher education bills were adopted last week, but the ban on prohibiting university staff and employees from striking remains.
Senate Bill 83 was first introduced in March by state Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, and has since drawn significant backlash from students and university staff. House Bill 151 was introduced as a companion bill by state Rep. Steve Demetriou, R-Bainbridge Twp., and Rep. Josh Williams, R-Oregon.
The changes were made “after input of a variety of interested parties and voices on some of the general concerns,” Cirino said Tuesday morning during the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee Meeting.
The original version of SB 83 and HB 151 would have mainly impacted public schools and, 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.
“From the beginning, I have stated that students were at the core of SB 83,” Cirino said. “I still believe that. The main pillar of this legislation has been allowing students to receive an education that contains a broad range of perspectives, discussion, debate and ultimately true intellectual diversity.”
People testified in opposition for more than seven hours against SB 83 a few weeks ago during a marathon Senate Workforce and Higher Education committee meeting. More than 500 people submitted opponent testimony and some college students have previously said they would leave Ohio if SB 83 becomes law.
What changes were made to the higher ed bills?
The revisions clarified that segregation of faculty and staff based on an individual’s race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression is only prohibited in classroom settings, formal orientation ceremonies and formal graduation ceremonies.
“This was done to address concerns and confusion regarding policies on dormitories, sports events, sport teams and clubs,” Cirino said.
Sean McCann, policy strategist with ACLU of Ohio, previously said SB 83 could prohibit single sex dorms and Black fraternities.
Timothy Messer-Kruse, a professor of ethnic studies at Bowling Green State University, previously wrote SB 83 “will require that we close down most of our intramural and intercollegiate club sports teams.”
The new version adds language that says nothing “prohibits faculty or students from classroom instruction, discussion, or debate, so long as faculty members remain committed to expressing intellectual diversity and allowing intellectual diversity to be expressed.”
“This ensure that no topic or concept is barred from being discussed and debated in the classroom, but to ultimately ensure that multiple viewpoints are being discussed and students’ own decisions can be made based on their own analysis,” Cirino said.
The new version of the bill wouldn’t require Ohio universities to end their current programs with Chinese institutions, but they would have to take extra steps to protect intellectual property and the”security of the state of Ohio, and the national security interests of the United States.”
“Changes were included to ensure no scholarship dollars were in jeopardy for students,” Cirino said.
Ohio universities interested in creating new programs with China would have to get approval from the Chancellor of Higher Education in consultation with the Attorney General.
The required American history courses remain in the bills, but a change made says students could be exempt from the requirement if they pass an exam developed by the Chancellor of Higher Education.
Another revision allows mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training for certain exemptions such as if it is essential for the school’s accreditation, to fulfill a federal requirement, maintain a professional license or get a grant.
Some other changes to the bill reduce Board of Trustee terms from nine years down to four, require Boards of Trustees to create policies on tenure and update those policies every five years and added more restrictions to labor negotiations.
Opposition to these bills
Despite the changes, several educators and AAUP members remain concerned about these bills.
Ohio State University’s chapter of American Association of University Professors said on their website the bill “is still deeply flawed and represents vast government overreach that undermines academic freedom, workers’ rights, and institutional autonomy.”
“The changes to the bill fail to assuage our very serious concerns,” OSU’s AAUP chapter said. “This new version, in some respects, is worse than the original draft, particularly as it pertains to proposing new constraints on collective bargaining.”
Sara Kilpatrick, the executive director of the Ohio’s AAUP chapter, said in a news release the bill would “undermine student success, free expression, workers’ rights, and institutional autonomy.”
“It would hurt student learning, faculty recruitment, and quality higher education,” she wrote.
Scott DiMauro, Ohio Education Association President, said in a news release it sends one message to students and faculty: “go somewhere else.”
“It is an obvious strategy to seize control of our universities by one political party,” John McNay, AAUP National Council member and history professor at the University of Cincinnati, said in a news release.
Representatives peppered Cirino, Williams and Demetriou with questions during Wednesday’s Higher Education Committee meeting and Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst, asked how many Ohio college presidents and Board of Trustees have sought out the representatives and asked them for a bill like this.
“It depends on what part of the bill you are talking about,” Cirino said. “In various parts of the bill we have had substantial involvement and discussions with the presidents.”
Demetriou said the bill’s tenure review process is for “consistently underperforming professors that need to be held accountable.”
“In no other profession does an employee have almost no accountability to their employer or customer- yet that’s what we’ve allowed to happen in our state colleges and universities,” he said.
When talking about the ban on university staff and employees from striking, Demetriou likened university faculty to police officers, firefighters and nurses.
“They are really important pillars of our society,” he said. “Obviously if they went on strike that’s a major disruption to our way of life here in Ohio and we are simply just putting them on par with those other important groups of Ohioans.”
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