Ending diversity and inclusion training requirements, bans on relationships with Chinese universities and mandated courses on American history are all packed into a multifaceted GOP higher education bill introduced in Ohio’s Republican-dominated Senate Wednesday.
The proposal, dubbed the Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act, could significantly change how professors and students experience the state’s public universities and colleges.
Students and staff alike would not be required to undergo any diversity, equity or inclusion training at their institutions, or be subjected to “political or ideological litmus tests” as part of hiring or admissions decisions. Institutions would also have to incorporate concepts of free speech into their mission statements.
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Senate Bill 83 would also require professors, both tenured and nontenured, to have more rigorous evaluation processes, including being evaluated on whether or not they provide a learning environment free of “political, racial, gender, and religious bias.”
Bill sponsor, Republican Sen. Jerry Cirino, of Kirtland, said the provisions are part of a “course correction” to redirect higher education toward “true intellectual diversity” rather than a focus on “social change.”
Senate Minority Leader, Democrat Nickie Antonio of Cleveland, said she’s concerned about the “micromanaging” of higher education by the Legislature. She also noted that bias is often subjective and wondered who will be in charge of defining the biases listed in the proposal.
Additionally under the bill, course syllabi would have to be posted online, making assignments and required reading public, as well as background on the professor teaching the course. Faculty could also be prohibited from striking during contract negotiations.
Students would need to pass an American government or history class in order to graduate, with a mandatory reading list—the US Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address and Letter from Birmingham Jail.
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The proposal would also ban academic and financial relationships between Ohio’s higher education institutions and those in China, including funding for research as well as study abroad programs. Cirino cited national security concerns as the reasoning behind the provision, but noted that the ban doesn’t encompass admissions, and Chinese students would still be free to attend colleges and universities in Ohio without additional barriers.
Pushback on diversity-focused training and programs in higher education was also seen in Florida this year, as GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans in February to ban programs in state colleges on diversity, equity and inclusion.
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The Ohio bill will be heard in Senate committee in the coming weeks.