Columbus, Ohio (WCMH) — The Ohio Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee had a long evening Wednesday, as hundreds of professors, students and education professionals confronted it for five minutes each to denounce a bill they see as an existential threat to higher education in Ohio.
The Southern Hearing Hall was filled with university professors, teaching assistants and students, some dressed in red, many with posters with “SB 83” crossed out. Protesters lined the halls and filled the Rotunda, the designated overflow room, listening to hours of testimony — from professors and students, as well as members of the NAACP, Ohio ACLU and Columbus YWCA — and grilling about Senate Bill 83.
The bill, called the Higher Education Improvement Act, would reform higher education by, among other things, banning faculty strikes, banning mandatory diversity training, and barring Ohio universities from partnering with Confucius Institutes and other Chinese research institutions.
Sen. Jerry Serino (R-Kirtland), chair of the Workforce and Higher Education Committee and sponsor of SB83, did not testify on Wednesday. But he argued to the committee and the press that his bill is a much-needed course correction that returns universities to their intended goal of fostering an environment of critical thinking, debate, and ideological diversity.
In sharp and resolute opposition, opponents testified that the bill threatened the academic freedom it intended to protect, and amounted to significant government interference in academia.
The bill addresses several areas that Cirino sees as needing improvement. As institutions, colleges and universities they will be prohibited from taking any position on “the public policy controversies prevalent today, or any other ideology, principle, concept or formulation that requires adherence to any controversial belief or policy” – unless it is in support of a US declaration of war. Institutions will be prohibited from using “political and ideological tests” in hiring and admissions decisions, including using diversity data on applications.
Faculty members would also be prohibited from teaching many concepts, including the view that individuals can be “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or not.” All course syllabuses must be approved using the Intellectual Diversity Assessment Form, and course syllabuses detailing the instructors’ Biographical Information must be publicly available online.
Although the bill does not explicitly mention critical race theory, its critics, such as Emily Huh, a law professor at the University of Cincinnati, have argued that its ban is heavily implied, and that the bill’s ambiguity would create a chilling effect among academics seeking race. Studies, gender studies and related fields.
“Our ever-evolving democracy cannot exist or thrive if its citizens cannot be educated about the complex aspects of American history and society, even if and perhaps because these aspects are ‘controversial,'” Huh said.
Rep. Josh Williams, one of the four supporters who certified and sponsored House Bill 151, the companion to Sereno’s bill, said he and many other academics fell victim to “the de facto system of censorship on college campuses.” Smothers controversial opinions. As a law student, he said, professors were instructed not to contact him because his beliefs amounted to discrimination, and students tried to sabotage his grades.
“I was surrounded by individuals who believed that the color of my skin determined the kind of opinions I should have,” said Williams. “And as soon as I didn’t agree with what they thought fit for blacks in America to believe, I was shunned, not just by the faculty, but by the students,” said Williams.
Serino argued that his bill empowers those whose views and beliefs are rejected by the educational institution by enabling them to report, in required teaching assessments, whether the professor has created a classroom environment “free from political, racial, gender, and religious bias.” These assessments will be incorporated into the grade point average, which should be posted on each professor’s web page.
Opponents have testified that Cirino’s bill encourages punitive measures against faculty members with whom conservatives—in the classroom and outside—disagree. The bill requires institutions to discipline faculty members who do not adhere to established policies through penalties including censure and dismissal. Prohibits faculty strikes during contract negotiations, and performs post-service review.
During cross-examination by Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, Cerino said the strike ban was necessary to prevent faculty from “holding students hostage” as a bargaining tool. Sen. Bill Rinke asked DiMauro if he thought of higher education as a commercial bargain between universities and tuition-paying students.
“It should not be lost that when we speak of a faculty taking this extraordinary measure of strike, they do so not because they are standing up for their own interest, but the working conditions of the faculty are also reflected in the learning conditions of the students,” DiMauro said.
Hours passed in the hearing room, as one opponent after another took to the stage to decry what they describe as the government’s expansion of classrooms and the will to ignore the harmful legacies of systemic racism and sexism. Many students have spoken of their intention to leave Ohio to pursue graduate degrees, while professors have recalled decades-old battles — born out of faculty and student protests — for gender and African American studies programs at universities across the state. Despite more than four hours of testimony, only a fraction of the 500 people who testified spoke to the commission.
The Rev. Jack Sullivan, executive director of the Ohio Council of Churches, reminded the committee of the collective decision weeks ago to move the clocks forward in daylight saving time, a move that routinely brings “the inconvenience of losing an hour of sleep” and annual calls to rid the community of changing times.
“As I read page after page of descriptive SB83, I formed the opinion that it is not a daylight-providing, light-producing, human flourishing metric, but one that embraces days that are shorter and darker than standard time,” Sullivan said. “Just this record time is not simply about turning back our clocks by 60 minutes, but instead by 60 years to a time, a record time, when African Americans and other people of color in this state and across the country were brutalized and belittled.” .”