Ohio higher education bill revises DEI training rules, still bans faculty from striking
A Republican-backed bill that would make sweeping changes in higher education in Ohio has been slightly modified. Some items related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training were altered, while other controversial provisions stayed the same.
The bill would now allow mandatory DEI training at universities only when related to accreditation, licensing and grants. It clarifies that the ban on financial partnerships with China doesn’t include tuition from Chinese students. And it says no topics are banned, but faculty must allow intellectual diversity to be expressed.
Its sponsor, Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) said the bill will accomplish his goals.
“The main pillar of this legislation has been allowing students to receive an education that contains a broad range of perspectives, discussion, debate, and ultimately, a true intellectual diversity," Cirino said to a Senate committee when introducing the substitute bill Tuesday.
Senate Bill 83 also still prohibits universities from taking public positions on controversial topics, though they can lobby lawmakers on issues.
As Cirino indicated in an interview on "The State of Ohio," some "ambiguous language" on the teaching of specified concepts was removed. For instance, "climate change" was replaced with "climate policies." The revisions also clarify that no topics are banned, Cirino said, and all subjects should be fodder for discussion in classrooms. But there's a caveat.
“We just want to make sure that subjects are reviewed from all points of view," Cirino said, “and that students and faculty feel free to exercise their right to express themselves and don't feel judged or don't feel in any way that they're going to be harmed if they take an opinion that might be contrary to the instructor or to a majority of the other students."
The bill still bans faculty members from striking. So even with the other changes, it's unlikely Democrats, who are in the superminority in both the House and Senate, will support the bill.
Hundreds of people filed written testimony or signed up to speak against Senate Bill 83 in a hearing on April 19 that lasted more than seven hours. Opponents spoke about the vague language in the bill on concepts such as "intellectual diversity." They also expressed concern about a possible loss of grants and accreditation that relies on mandatory DEI training, and the cost to universities to hire administrators to keep up with the bill's mandates.
Others spoke out against the prohibition on faculty from striking and the ban on segregating of groups by race, gender identity or other factors, which they said could affect single-sex dorms, single-gender sports, Greek organizations and clubs for shared activities or interests.
The language has now been clarified, Cirino explained, such that the requirement to desegregate groups was narrowed to classes for credit, formal orientation and graduation ceremonies.
"This was done to address concerns and confusion regarding policies on dormitories, sports events and sports teams and clubs," he said.
The amended bill also eliminates regulations for private colleges.