Bill that looks to change Ohio higher education instruction passes Senate

Published: May. 17, 2023 at 7:13 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Senate Bill 83, or the “Enact Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act” passed a Senate vote in Columbus on Wednesday, setting the stage for a state assembly vote and ultimately a decision from the Governor on whether it should become a law.

According to State Senator Jerry Cirino (R- District 18), the bill would be a “course correction for state universities and colleges” by requiring that both sides of every issue are presented. This would be done by forcing instructors and professors from sharing or furthering personal views within the teachings on subjects deemed “controversial.”

“All were asking for is when particularly controversial subjects are being discussed in the classroom, that all sides of issues are expressed and that the professor is not trying to push their own narrative or beliefs on the students,” Cirino said, “and that all students are allowed to disagree with each other.”

The bill would require that students and administrators to evaluate professors on their compliance. If a student or administrator believes the professor has not been fair enough, they could lose their job. Cirino said there would be an adjudication process for teachers who are facing repercussions.

According to Cirino, this bill would protect particularly conservative voices, which he says have been silenced, “we are encouraging more speech and the current environment constrains speech of conservatives”.

Opponents of the bill believe that, if passed, it will actually do the opposite of the intended consequence, as professors would now be subject to student and administrator reviews that would determine if they have been following the law or not.

“None of my constituents have said hey can you make our universities less effective or make them lose credibility in any way, and that’s basically what Senate Bill 83 would do,” State Senator Kent Smith (D- District 21), an opponent of the bill, said, “‘it’s the worst assault on academic freedom that Ohio higher education has ever seen”.

Smith is joined by The Ohio State University opposing Senate Bill 83 with the school saying:

“We acknowledge the issues raised by this proposal but believe there are alternative solutions that will not undermine the shared governance model of universities, risk weakened academic rigor, or impose extensive and expensive new reporting mandates.

Kent State University also disagrees with the bill, believing that state lawmakers are making the wrong assumption about collegiate education:

“There is in Ohio, among some state elected officials, a growing ivory tower accusation being leveled against our state’s public universities and against, quite frankly, Kent State University,” Kent State President Todd Diacon said. “Our students graduating today are tough,” he said. “They do not live in an ivory tower. They are not pampered. They exhibited impressive grit as they persevered through the early semesters of COVID-19. They do not live in a secluded world marked by an aloof attitude.”

Smith believes that this bill is creating a problem that has not existed, eventually silencing many more voices out of fear of speaking their mind, particularly conservative ones.

“You’re actually setting up conservative voices to being victimized by this new process of student evaluation of professors or college administrator evaluation of professors.”

Smith also fears that the bill opens up a larger opportunity for professors to be swayed into giving unjust grades in order to protect their jobs.

“This could lead to grade inflation with professors worried more about student feedback than their primary job of educating their students,” Smith said.

Having passed the State Senate, the bill now heads to the Republican lead house, then potentially the Governor’s desk.