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Faculty unions across Ohio are uniting against Senate Bill 83

University of Cincinnati

Faculty and staff from universities all over Ohio are sounding the alarm on Senate Bill 83. The proposed piece of legislation would place a ban on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training for students and faculty, and would restrict what professors would be allowed to teach inside the classroom.

The bill's sponsor, Republican State Senator Jerry Cirino, said it would eliminate "bias" in the classroom, but those opposing the bill say it could put all of the state's higher education institutions at risk.

"Our system of higher education has thrived largely because it has embraced the principle of academic freedom," University of Cincinnati Association of University Professors Chair Steve Mockabee said.

He sees the bill as a product of "culture war" issues that aim to find solutions to problems that don't exist.

Part of Senate Bill 83 would require students to take an American history course, with required readings that include among others, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the Emancipation Proclamation, and Martin Luther King Jr.'s letter from Birmingham Jail.

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For Mockabee, those requirements and strict rules would repel both students and faculty from the state and could potentially have a negative impact on Ohio's future workforce.

"If our system is undermined to the point that we can no longer recruit and retain good faculty, and recruit excellent students, our universities and colleges will suffer," Mockabee said. "We'll be less able to prepare people for the economy and society of the future."

Additionally, the bill would look to ban university faculty from going on strike, which union leaders say would essentially steal bargaining power away from workers.

Robert Rubin, president of Wright State University's faculty union, says this part of the bill takes away a fundamental right from staff.

In 2019, WSU faculty went on strike over heavy workloads and poor health care plans. Rubin says that the strike didn't happen for no reason and employees only look to go on strike as a last resort.

"Without that ability to strike the balance of power radically shifts from being equal and balanced, and shifts radically to the employer," Rubin said. "It's a last resort, but it is also unfortunately sometimes necessary if workers are put in a no-win position."

To combat the legislation, members from a number of faculty unions across Ohio filled the hearing room inside the Statehouse last Wednesday to express their disapproval of the bill.

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Both Mockabee and Rubin say Ohio's unions plan on fighting this bill until it fails and will be making their voices heard on an issue they say will have repercussions well beyond the world of higher education.

Senate Bill 83's next committee hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, March 29.

Zack Carreon is Education reporter for WVXU, covering local school districts and higher education in the Tri-State area.