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Analysis: The GOP effort to control college learning could succeed, despite overwhelming opposition

students sitting in a large lecture hall facing a teacher at the podium, as seen from above

Last week, on the Senate side of the Ohio Statehouse, hundreds of opponents of Senate Bill 83 — known as the "Higher Education Enhancement Act" — packed a committee hearing room for what turned out to be the longest public hearing in Ohio history.

It began at 4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon and lasted until 11:30 p.m. before Republican State Sen. Jerry Cirino, the sponsor of SB 83 and chair of the Senate Workplace and Education Committee, gaveled the marathon hearing to an end.

About 500 opponents of Cirino's bill either testified in person or submitted written testimony. They were college students from across Ohio, professors and university administrators.

And each and every one told Cirino they believe SB 83 is an unwelcome and unnecessary intrusion of the state into a university and college system — public and private — that is well-respected and doing just fine without Republican politicians butting in.

Only eight people spoke in favor of the legislation.

And yet, there is a good chance that a legislature with a veto-proof super-majority in both the House and Senate will make SB 83 the law of the land.

RELATED: Opponents pack marathon hearing on bill to make huge changes in higher education in Ohio

How will that change the way Ohio's colleges and universities operate? Let us count the ways.

SB 83 would ban:

  • Requiring diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) training for students and faculty. Cirino says Ohio State University has 99 people running DEI programs and when pressed, admitted he isn't aware of anyone who "requires" it as a condition of graduation. "I don't know why we need this," Cirino said. "What is this training for?"
  • Strikes by employees, including the faculty.
  • "Bias" in classrooms, with no hint of what the state would consider "bias."
  • Forbidding programs that partner with the People's Republic of China, "our enemy."

Here's what SB 83 would require:

  • That every student take an American history course, with a syllabus set out in the bill
  • Public syllabuses and teacher information online
  • Professors would face tenure evaluations based on if the educator showed bias or taught with bias — including student evaluations
  • That educators teach so students can reach their own conclusions

One of the first to testify last week was a proponent of SB 83 — Republican State Rep, Josh Williams of Lucas County.
Williams said that when he was a student at the University of Toledo College of Law he was discriminated against for his opposition to an "open border" policy on immigration.

"There is a de facto censorship regime on college campuses now," Williams said. "This bill reverses these policies and opens new avenues for transparency and accountability."

COMMENTARY: Republicans set their sights on control of higher education in Ohio

Sara Kilpatrick, executive director of the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors, told me that last week's hearing was proof that SB 83 is way off base.

"There was overwhelming opposition in that hearing room to a completely unnecessary piece of legislation," Kilpatrick said. "There were an enormous number of students who came to the Statehouse to testify. It was abundantly clear that this idea of liberal bias in the classroom is not something they are concerned about."

There is a real concern on university campuses around Ohio that passage of SB 83 would lead to many out-of-state students to choose not to come to Ohio colleges and universities.

It could also lead to a drain on the number of university professors coming to Ohio to teach.

"We're seeing that people from out of state are already withdrawing their names for faculty positions here," Kilpatrick said.

RELATED: Faculty unions across Ohio are uniting against Senate Bill 83

At last week's hearing, Cirino told opponents that he will be filing some amendments to his bill that would eliminate some "unintended consequences." But he didn't specify what those changes might be.

Last month, I talked with Cirino, from the Lake County town of Kirtland, about 20 miles east of Cleveland. He was then about to introduce SB 83 and was convinced it was necessary.

Cirino, who told me he was the first in his family to go to college, said the bill "is about quality education. I hear a lot of talk about indoctrination in some of our college courses. The idea that you have think certain things and certain ways."

"Students may have to attest to certain beliefs in order to succeed," Cirino said. "What I am interested in is intellectual diversity."

But will it pass? Even in a heavily Republican legislature that hasn't hesitated to seek control of any little pigeonhole in the life of Ohioans who may have beliefs contrary to their own?

Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman controls the upper body, where only seven of the 33 members are Democrats. Huffman, who seems to wield the most power of any Republican politician in the state, supports SB 83. He's even suggested that he might make it part of the state budget bill to get it through the legislature.

A Senate vote for Cirino's bill is a slam dunk. A three-inch putt.

But no one knows what the Ohio House will do.

RELATED: Miami University students protest Ohio Senate Bill 83

House Republicans are in turmoil. There are two factions of Republicans in the House — one set loyal to House Speaker Jason Stephens and another to State Rep. Derek Merrin, a Trump Republican who believes Stephens stole the speakership from him.

Together the two factions are a formidable force, holding 65 of the 99 House seats. But they are not together.

And it is not at all clear that Stephens, a Republican who formed a coalition with House Democrats to become speaker, will advance the bill to a floor vote.

If it is passed into law, it will land on the desk of Gov. Mike DeWine. The Republican governor hasn't given any indication whether would sign it into law or not.

"As the bill is in the early stages of possibly progressing through the legislature, we are monitoring the bill and reviewing the language," said Dan Tierney, the governor's press secretary. "We have not issued any formal opinion on the bill."

It may have been 500 to 8 in the committee hearing last week, but that doesn't mean the bill won't pass. In the end, those 500 don't have a vote.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.