State Senator Jerry Sirino believes his recently passed legislation will revolutionize Ohio’s higher education system. In fact, he called his law to raise the level of higher education “watershed”. College professors in Northeast Ohio can’t say they agree.
“We need students to be taught how to think, not what to think,” the Kirtland Republican said in a March 15 press release.
The goal, according to this report, is to “protect the integrity of Ohio’s higher education institutions for future generations.” Emphasis is also placed on educating students “through free, open, and rigorous intellectual inquiry in search of truth.”
But it’s already happening, according to educators in northeast Ohio. They are concerned that the bill will have many negative repercussions, from firing faculty to making students feel unwelcome on campus.
“The legislation is an attempt to twist what’s going on in higher education for political gain,” said Rob Loftis, professor of philosophy and chairman of the Senate Faculty at Lorain County Community College.
State Senate Bill 83 lays out a lot of ideas in 39 pages. One measure calls for a ban on any mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion programs for students, staff, and faculty. A similar plan was unveiled in Florida last month.
Another requires students to take a course in American history—with required reading of documents such as the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address—prior to graduation.
Academic relationships with institutions in China will be largely limited. University employees will not be allowed to strike.
In addition, institutions will be required to include multiple statements in their mission statements. The list includes a statement that the university will not “endorse, object, comment, or take action as an institution in connection with ongoing public policy disputes.” However, an exception will be made if the US Congress “declares a state of armed hostility” against a foreign state.
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Public two- and four-year schools will have to comply with the rules. Private institutions that wish to receive certain pools of public funding must follow similar rules.
Not everything about the bill is bad, according to Anup Kumar, a communications professor and Senate faculty president at Cleveland State University. There is a measure that will require curriculums to be posted online a week before classes start, allowing students to view them before potentially enrolling. It’s a good idea, he said.
But for the most part, Kumar says, it’s like trying to micromanage universities. As an example, he points to a step that wants to update the assessment of teachers. One part of this legislation includes the creation of a single document for all students on all campuses so that they can leave their feedback on teachers. Right now, faculty and administration are developing and conducting their own assessments.
“All universities are different,” he said. “Every university has a local context.”
Also, if faculty members feel that their academic freedom is being infringed upon, they may not want to stay on the staff.
“The best talent will leave,” he said. “The most competent among teachers will leave.”
State Senator Chirino said he consulted with institutional leaders while drafting the bill. Kumar said he has not been contacted and, to his knowledge, has not been contacted by any of the other Cleveland State faculty.
However, university president Laura Bloomberg did just that. CSU representatives provided Signal Cleveland with the following statement:
“President Bloomberg recently met with State Senator Chirino to discuss various higher education policy issues, including parts of the state budget related to higher education, as well as several concepts that Senator Chirino planned to include in SB 83. We are now studying the details the proposed bill and determining its impact on the CSU. We look forward to contributing to the Senator’s cause and continuing to work with him on issues related to higher education, our students, and the state’s workforce needs.”
Cleveland State University
Cuyahoga Community College officials said that, to the best of their knowledge, neither Chirino nor his staff spoke to college management about SB 83.