Academic Freedom Isn’t Free

Kali Jerrard

CounterCurrent: Week of 5/22/23

Over the last few weeks, higher education reform legislation has made encouraging progress in several states. I wrote to you all nearly two months ago regarding Ohio SB 83, also known as the Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act. SB 83 has just passed the Senate and is on its way to the House—where it is likely to pass— after which it would go to Governor DeWine’s desk. Exciting news indeed!

If you haven’t read the bill, or if you just need a refresher, SB 83 would require that:

[C]olleges and universities commit themselves to intellectual diversity, and to prohibiting both “diversity statements” and mandatory trainings or courses in discriminatory concepts such as “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI). The bill also adds requirements for reformed mission statements, syllabus transparency requirements, detailed budgetary transparency, nondiscrimination, transparency about speaker fees, and a new American history and government general education requirement. Importantly, the bill reinforces prohibitions on segregation and bars financial entanglements with the People’s Republic of China.

SB 83 is precise in its language—other states should take note. For instance, the bill does not prohibit DEI training on campus, but rather states that such training may not be required. Prohibiting the free exchange of ideas (whichever side they may come from, and whether or not you agree with them) is a surefire way to kill academic and intellectual freedom. In this way, and in others, SB 83 is a victory for academic freedom.  

Ohio isn’t the only state passing beneficial legislation. Governor DeSantis has just signed SB 266 and HB 931 into law. “SB 266 bars an extraordinarily wide range of ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ (DEI) requirements and programming in Florida’s public universities, as well as strengthening their civics education. HB 931 bars diversity statements and, to strengthen intellectual diversity, establishes an Office of Public Policy Events.” These bills effectively prohibit mandatory and discriminatory DEI policies and seek to bolster intellectual freedom in Florida higher education—an all-around win.

This legislation in Ohio and Florida is part of a broader movement to reform academia and shatter the activist monoculture on campus. Mandatory DEI policies, meddling by special interest groups, and far-left activism on campus seriously undermine the legitimacy of these institutions, as they threaten institutional neutrality and freedom—especially when colleges and universities welcome them with open arms. Recent higher ed legal proceedings teach us that any failure to subscribe to the woke monoculture pervading academia is a quick way to end a career. Many faculty, administrators, and students are under attack by the very institutions that were designed to be a haven for freedom and the exchange of ideas. This has to stop. 

Academic freedom isn’t free. That’s why this recent legislation is so important. If higher education cannot hold itself to its founding principles, then we must.

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

Photo by Adobe Stock

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