Republican sponsor of sweeping bill on higher education in Ohio says changes to it are coming
The sponsor of a bill to make sweeping changes in higher education in Ohio says that measure will be amended, to clarify some things that concerned opponents. But some of the most controversial provisions will remain, as the sponsors seek to go after long-standing talking points by conservatives about universities.
During a hearing that went more than seven hours, several opponents said some provisions in Senate Bill 83 could cost universities money and official recognition - for instance, the ban on required diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training, which some suggested could endanger federal grant money and could put accreditation of Ohio institutions in jeopardy. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) said that will be addressed in an amendment.
“In terms of the accreditations and grants and things, that's something we're dealing with in the amendment to make it more clear we're not going to jeopardize in our ultimate final bill any of these things for the state of Ohio," Cirino said in an interview for "The State of Ohio". "And we certainly don't want to hurt students.”
Senate Bill 83 would also prohibit financial partnerships with China, ban faculty members from striking and require tenured faculty to go through performance reviews which could include student evaluations. And it would require colleges and universities that get state funding to submit a four-point statement that states the institution's commitment to intellectual diversity and free speech, that it doesn't require DEI training, and that course outlines or syllabi are published online.
But Cirino said language on requiring the presentation of differing viewpoints on controversial issues is among the changes. He cited as an example the words "climate change" in his initial bill.
"I've had discussions with the climate folks. We are...changing the words in the bill from 'climate change' to 'climate policies', which arguably really where the debate needs to be right now. There's no sense arguing over whether or not a temperature change in the Earth is real or not. You know, it's measurable," Cirino said. "But policies to react to climate change should be up for very important debate."
But Cirino said some things in the bill will stay - for instance, bans on mandatory diversity training and what he calls ideological "litmus tests" in hiring, which he believes is happening.
"If you look at the ratio right now, as most of the studies have shown in both faculty as well as staff, it's like a 90-10 relationship," Cirino said. "I can tell you that they're not out hiring droves of people who are not following the 'woke' agenda. And a lot of that a lot of the conservatives who would object to that are not even bothering to apply. So we're missing out on some very talented people here."
"I'm all for diversity," Cirino added. "I think we should have more diversity. But that includes diversity of thought."
When asked about what "woke" means to him, Cirino said it means "we're responding to the the things of the day, the concepts of the day. Everybody jumps on board. Look what has happened since George Floyd was killed. A very unfortunate incident, certainly, but that triggered a bunch of things and all around our society today in America. And we're still living with those." But he stressed he still wants to "promote diversity".
Cirino said his takeaway from the seven hour hearing that featured testimony from many faculty and students that they want lawmakers to "stay out of our sandbox" but "keep sending us billion dollar checks every year". Cirino said he told university professors, "that is an unacceptable viewpoint and you need to work on that with your with your faculty. Because we do have, as legislators, we do have a seat at the table. We're not just check writers and we care about Ohio. We care about higher ed.”
Opponents said the mandates in Senate Bill 83 will turn prospective students away and will cost universities millions of dollars. But Cirino said while there may be some extra funding down the road for certain programs, overall he doesn’t buy that, saying universities have been able to pay millions for DEI training without additional state funding.
Cirino's bill is titled the Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act. Several opponents have renamed it the "Higher Education Destruction Act".
"They're very creative. I hope they're that creative in teaching their classes," Cirino said in response. "This is to enhance higher ed and it is a course correction for the direction that Ohio education is going in right now that I think is not good. And this course course correction is very necessary. If we don't address this sort of thing now, they will go down a path, a 'woke' path that will be perhaps unchangeable in the future."