On the campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)
The Ohio Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would create “intellectual diversity” centers at Ohio State University, the University of Toledo, Miami University, Cleveland State University, and the University of Cincinnati.
The party line vote came after an amendment was added during the Senate session that tacks on Miami, Cleveland State, and Cincinnati to Senate Bill 117. The bill now moves to the House for committee consideration.
SB 117 would create the Salmon P. Chase Center for Civics, Culture, and Society at Ohio State University’s College of Public Affairs and the Institute of American Constitutional Thought and Leadership at the University of Toledo’s College of Law. It would also now create centers for civics, culture and society at Miami, Cleveland State and Cincinnati.
“The (Ohio State) center will educate students by means of free, open and rigorous intellectual inquiry, to seek truth, equip students with the skills they need to reach their own informed conclusions in matters of social and political importance,” said Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, one of the bill’s sponsors.
SB 117 amendment
Many Senate Democrats slammed SB 117 and the amendment during Wednesday’s session.
“SB 117 is forcing the installation of conservative think-tanks at our public universities across the state of Ohio and they are using taxpayer money to do it,” said state Sen. Bill DeMora, D-Columbus.
“The amendment is atrocious,” said Sen. Catherine Ingram, D-Cincinnati.
Miami and Cleveland State were not aware of the potential amendment adding them to the bill before Wednesday afternoon’s Senate Session.
“They had absolutely no idea,” Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, told reporters when she reached out to her alma mater Cleveland State. “They did not ask for it … and are very concerned about this being imposed on them.”
State Sen. Kent Smith, D-Euclid, did something similar with his alma maters Miami and Cleveland State, and both institutions of higher education said this was the first time they were hearing about the amendment.
“Committees are the best forums for thoroughly studying bills,” he said.
Senate President Matt Huffman said making the amendment on the Senate floor was not ideal.
“Certainly that’s not the best way to do these things,” he said to reporters. “I don’t like substantive floor amendments. We’re at a lengthy legislative break. Secondly, the House in their negotiations of essentially, at least for the moment, have rejected the concept of this higher education reform that we want to have. And so what we really want to do is tee these things up.”
The amendments also clarified that both these centers are “independent academic units in their respective universities,” Cirino said.
He introduced the bill in May along with Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon — arguing that university faculty are predominantly liberal.
But McColley insisted Wednesday that SB 117 is not a conservative takeover of higher education.
“There is not a single letter, there is not a single word, there is not a single phrase that requires this to teach conservative principles,” he said. “The University of Toledo Law is supportive of this. The Ohio State University does not oppose this either.”
But Ohio State already has more than 70 centers, and many students and professors at both universities have spoken out against SB 117.
State Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, said college students do want these centers, but are afraid to speak out.
“If they speak out, they are afraid it might impact their academic career,” he claimed.
The bill would give UT $1 million in fiscal year 2024 and $2 million in fiscal year 2025 for the Institute, and Ohio State $5 million in fiscal years 2024 and 2025 for the Center.
The bill’s amendment would each give Miami, Cleveland, and Cincinnati $2 million each fiscal year to support the centers, Cirino said.
SB 117 is one of the bills that the Senate added to their version of the state budget, which is currently in conference committee.
McColley clarified that what’s in the proposed budget when it comes to SB 117 doesn’t include the three new universities that were added to the bill through Wednesday’s amendment.
The Ohio House has pushed back on the higher education bills being added to the budget.
“We’re maybe not going to get 117 in the budget,” Huffman said. “You don’t know what the deal is until there’s a deal. So we’re just putting 117 forward as a bill.”
Senate Bill 83, also introduced by Cirino and which would overhaul higher education, was added to the budget by the Senate.
Among other things, SB 83 would ban university staff and employees from striking, college students would be forced to take certain American history courses, professor tenure would be based around “bias,” and mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training would be prohibited, with only specific exemptions.
“The House are not fans of 83,” Huffman said. “I think we’ve offered a pretty good higher education package that they rejected.”
While the constitutional deadline for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to sign the budget is Friday, it seems unclear at this point if that is actually going to happen.
“I’m optimistic and I think we’ll see what happens on Friday,” Huffmann said.
UT Law Professor Lee Strang first got the idea for the Institute of American Constitutional Thought and Leadership in 2019 after visiting the Georgetown Center for the Constitution and Princeton University’s James Madison Program.
He has also helped lawmakers get Issue 1 on the ballot in a special Aug. 8 election, which would make it harder for voters to amend the state constitution.
Lawmakers have insisted Issue 1 is not about abortion, but Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose recently said it is “100%” because of efforts to legalize abortion.
Strang has closely aligned himself with groups trying to stop an abortion rights amendment and has shown support for banning abortion care.
Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on Twitter.
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