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Republicans propose changes at Ohio public universities aimed at 'cancel culture'

Ohio University students walk on campus
Dan Konik
Statehouse News Bureau

Republicans in the Ohio Statehouse are pushing a bill to crack down on what they call "cancel culture" on public university campuses. The proposal would ban strikes by employees, end required diversity training and bar ideological litmus tests in hiring or admissions.

It includes banning strikes by employees, ending required diversity training and halting new contracts for partnerships or programs with Chinese institutions, including research, though current contracts can continue until their conclusion.

Senate Bill 83 would also:

  • Ban "political and ideological litmus tests" in hiring, promotion or admissions
  • Require annual evaluations of faculty, and make student evaluations part of the process
  • Create a review policy for faculty with tenure
  • Require all students to take three credit hours of American history courses covering the U.S. constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail"
  • Require syllabi or course outlines to be published in searchable form online, including the name and biography of the instructor
  • Require training for public university trustees through the Chancellor's office

The bill would require any institution that receives state funds must submit a statement that affirms this language in the bill:

  1. The institution is committed to intellectual diversity.
  2. The institution is committed to free speech protection for students, staff, and faculty.
  3. The institution does not require diversity, equity and inclusion courses or training for students, staff, or faculty.
  4. The institution complies with the syllabus requirements prescribed under section 3345.029 of the Revised Code as if it were a state institution of higher education.

Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirkland) said he’s proposing this after hearing from concerned residents. “Local control may be a nice concept, but the dollars that keep these institutions going come from the state and the taxpayers," Cirino said. "And the taxpayers that I have talked to, many of them are very unhappy with the trend going in our institutions that they are focused on more social change than on true intellectual diversity."
Language in the bill mirrors model legislation used in other bills and other states to ban teaching on divisive concepts and critical race theory, which can be taught at the college level.

When asked about language on that, Cirino said, "We're not trying to design the actual courses or the curriculum here, but the intent is certainly that we want graduates to understand the fundamentals of this country and our founding and how the country works. The good, the bad and the ugly, of course."

Cirino said he's aware that critics may say the state is going too far with this far-ranging bill.

"Some have also accused me of being against academic freedom, and I would challenge that and say that it's quite the opposite," Cirino said. "This bill actually, in my view, enhances academic, true academic freedom, so that everybody has a voice. We're not suggesting that one voice should be heard more than another in an academic environment where we're teaching our students to think for themselves, not what to think."

When asked for comment on the bill, a spokesperson for The Ohio State University, the state's largest public institution of higher education, said in a statement: "Ohio State looks forward to reviewing the legislation and working with our partners at the Statehouse throughout the legislative process."

Legislation seeking similar changes in policies at public universities and bans on mandatory diversity training have been introduced in other Republican-run states, including Alabama, Florida, Iowa and Texas.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.