A Higher Ed Reformer’s Wishlist Turned SB 83

Kali Jerrard

CounterCurrent: Week of 3/27/23

Just last week, Ohio State Senator Jerry Cirino introduced Senate Bill 83—also known as the Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act. This is one of many bills introduced across the U.S., both for K–12 and higher education, that are inspired by model legislation drafted by the National Association of Scholars and the Civics Alliance. In response to SB 83’s introduction, NAS promptly published an enthusiastic endorsement. SB 83 and our Model Higher Education Code provide a solid foundation upon which to rebuild Ohio’s colleges and universities, and to fight back against overreach by diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) activists.  

SB 83 would prohibit state-funded colleges and universities from requiring diversity statements for promotion, hire, and admissions, and would ban DEI concepts in classrooms and on campus. The bill would also mandate syllabus transparency and further commit to intellectual diversity and institutional neutrality. What’s more, SB 83 would bar what we call neo-segregation, a common practice among many colleges and universities. Such segregation allows for the voluntary—although often encouraged—separation of the student body by race into segregated residence halls, graduations, and clubs. 

In a day and age where free speech is a nonstarter in higher education, legislation like SB 83 offers hope for the preservation of American ideals, as well as the restoration of institutional integrity and academic freedom. Beyond the bill’s initiatives to encourage intellectual diversity and institutional neutrality, it also seeks to reform university governance. The bill’s sponsors seek comprehensive evaluations of faculty, especially through post-tenure reviews. And in a blow to China’s soft-power efforts, the bill would prohibit financial support of state institutions from Confucius Institutes or any other subsidiary of the People’s Republic.

In short, if this bill passes, it “will do an extraordinary amount to depoliticize Ohio’s public higher education system, strengthen intellectual diversity, and restore its accountability to Ohio policymakers and citizens.” 

With such sweeping reforms comes fierce opposition. Already, many of higher ed’s special interest groups have let it be known that they won’t allow the legislature to pass this bill without a fight. Such critics often decry the reforms as “anti-intellectual” or even “anti-academic freedom.” This is hard to imagine, since most of the bill is focused on ensuring that special interests play less of a role in the modern university so that governance is returned to those entrusted by the legislature, and therefore the people, to operate the institutions they fund. Perhaps these special interest groups are worried that their ideas won’t be allowed to permeate higher education unchallenged, since the bill requires institutions to report on how well they’ve fulfilled all of its requirements (like commitments to non-discrimination, transparency, intellectual diversity, etc.), and it will impose sanctions for noncompliance.  

If more legislation like SB 83 is introduced, we are on a promising path toward the restoration of academic freedom in higher education. This bill really is a higher education reformer’s wishlist, and we hope to see it inspire state legislators across the country. 

Until next week.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by the NAS Staff. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Photo by BillionPhotos.com on Adobe Stock

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