COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The trustees of Ohio’s public universities met with education officials and Senate Republicans Monday to discuss the issues facing higher education — amid the backdrop of a controversial bill impacting Ohio’s colleges.
“It’s hard to believe it has never been done before,” Senator Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) said. “That we’ve never gotten the trustees of our prestigious universities together.”
Cirino is the sponsor of Senate Bill 83 — the Higher Education Enhancement Act — that would, among other things, ban mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training, prohibit faculty from striking, add syllabus-posting requirements and require universities to pledge to uphold “intellectual diversity.” The bill passed the Senate in the spring, opposed by all Democrats and three Republicans. Since then, it has not moved in the House.
“That bill still needs a lot of work, and I think they’re working on it,” Speaker of the Ohio House Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) said.
Cirino said he hopes changes to the bill are introduced soon in the Ohio House Higher Education Committee so the bill can make it to the House floor in November.
“I can’t publicly disclose them yet,” Cirino said. “But I think we are down to the final two topics that need to get reconciled.”
Christopher McKnight Nichols, a history professor and the Wayne Woodrow Hayes chair in national security studies at Ohio State University, said facilitating conversations among Ohio’s public universities is a good thing — but bringing them into a political context is not.
“There’s a proper place for the politics, but these are public institutions, taxpayer money funds them, and then there’s a proper place for higher management of higher ed,” Nichols said.
Nichols is skeptical of SB 83 — he said there is a fine line to maintain between setting curriculum and mandating that certain topics be taught. He also criticized the unfunded mandates in the bill. According to the Legislative Service Commission, the bill could “significantly” increase administrative costs for universities that must develop new performance evaluations and manage added online filing requirements.
“It places all kinds of new burdens on higher education at a really critical moment where we’re trying to figure out how best to allocate funds and make sure we don’t have to raise tuition,” Nichols said.
Cirino said he has worked with universities to reduce the reporting requirements. He doesn’t expect increased costs to universities to be unsustainable.
In other higher education legislation, five Ohio universities have been ordered to create new centers to grow “intellectual diversity” on campus. The state budget allocates $24 million over two years to develop the centers.