COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Five universities in Ohio will create new centers to grow “intellectual diversity” on campus. The state budget allocates a total of $24 million dollars over two years to make the centers. 

“These centers are designed to allow for free speech, an odd thing we actually have to do this in higher education,” Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said.

Senate Bill 117 was folded into the state budget after passing the Senate floor. 

The budget allocates funds for these centers during fiscal year 24 and 25 at The Ohio State University ($5 million each year), The University of Toledo ($1 million each year), The University of Cincinnati ($2 million each year), Miami University ($2 million each year) and Cleveland State University.

“There’s so much that’s wrong with this,” Ohio State University Professor Christopher McKnight Nichols said. “I can’t imagine in the short-term having many students enrolled.”

Huffman said the bill was in response to what he calls growing “groupthink” on college campuses across the state.

“Any place, any organization, any group that you belong to, ultimately groupthink is created, whether it’s your family, whether it’s your church, the place you work,” Huffman said.

Huffman said his worry is that higher education institutes don’t hire people with different viewpoints — or discourage them from coming to their place of work. He said these centers could help solve that problem.

“These are centers that are separated from their university, that, because of their design, are able to hire people and will hire people who think freely for themselves,” Huffman said.

Huffman said, “somewhere in 90% or so of the people who work in higher education are members of the same political party.” A 2020 study conducted by a conservative-leaning group found that liberal faculty outnumber conservative faculty, across the U.S. nine to one. 

“That doesn’t happen by accident,” Huffman said.

But Nichols said he ran a center like these ones for nearly six years at a land grant university and said these seem unlikely to last.

“I think it is hasty, I think absolutely Senate Republicans pushed too fast,” Nichols said. “This legislation is poorly convinced, poorly constructed, it’s very likely to fail in many ways.”

The centers would “educate students by means of free, open and rigorous intellectual inquiry to seek the truth.” The budget text also indicates required instruction.

“There is nothing in any of the legislation that says anything about the kind of thought, conservative or otherwise, that has to be taught,” Huffman said.

Nichols said one way to improve upon these centers would be to have its curriculum contribute to a student’s degree.

“Will students actually show up? If you look at comparable centers and institutes across the U.S. that are like this, that are conservative institutes or schools, they have very few students, because students mostly recognize existing majors,” Nichols said. “Develop these programs for certificates or minors within existing majors for departments and disciplines.”

Plus, Nichols said the only university consulted before the budget allocation was the University of Toledo.

“Four of the five weren’t consulted, don’t necessarily want these centers or institutions and aren’t likely to be places where they thrive,” he said.

The centers will have an academic council, made up of seven members, who must be approved by the Ohio Senate.

Nichols said he also worries about the short-term funding for these centers.

“In two years, the funding dries up, there’s no constituency on campus that wants this, what happens? Will it become an empty shell, what will happen to the 15 faculty who have to be hired, what will happen to the students who are interested,” Nichols said.

Huffman said he is confident in these centers and that they will prove to be successful in attracting faculty and students while promoting thought diversity.

“Higher education should be the ultimate in ideas coming in and not discouraging people from thinking different things,” Huffman said.

These centers will start forming within the next few months, on track to open in January.