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The Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, Jan. 21, 2024.

Ohio Senate Bill 83 set to change state universities regarding DEI

Ohio Senate Bill 83, known as the Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act, may bring significant changes to universities, specifically regulating the content taught by professors, hindering diversity, equity and inclusion training within universities and restricting partnerships with China.

Sponsored by Sen. Jerry Cirino, the bill passed the Senate in May 2023. The House Higher Education Committee passed SB 83 by an 8-7 vote in December 2023, and it will now move to the House for a full vote. Lawmakers have until the end of 2024 to pass this version of the bill. 

Currently, the bill is on its eleventh revision; previously, it prohibited any institution from mandating diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, training. However, institutions can now teach DEI, but only in circumstances related to the university’s accreditation, licensing and grants. 

In an article written by Cirino, some of the topics he argues the bill will execute include promoting open and thorough intellectual study in education and providing free speech protection to students, faculty and staff.

Aligning with Cirino’s sentiments, sec. 3345. 0217. of the bill mandates a strict evaluation process for professors to ensure they allow students to make their judgments regarding controversial beliefs and not instruct social, political and religious ideas.

The bill defines controversial beliefs and policies as, “climate policies, electoral politics, foreign policy, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, immigration policy, marriage or abortion.”

Lauren Staigers, former Student Senate minority affairs commissioner, shared her frustrations concerning political discussion restrictions in universities.

“I find it extremely infuriating just because one of my majors is women’s, gender and sexuality studies, and that as a whole is controversial itself because it talks about queer theory,” Staigers said. “Everything can be political. That is a right-wing mitigation effort to inhibit liberal arts and humanities.”

Nerissa Young, an associate professor of journalism, also expressed her concerns regarding SB 83 and the importance of academic freedom in education.

“This is the exact opposite of what education is supposed to be, specifically, higher education,” Young said. “Every academic unit is at risk. Not talking about it isn't going to make these things that upset them so much go away. They'll just go underground for a while, and then they'll come back out with protest movements.”

Throughout the bill, the wording of “intellectual diversity” is used, which means, “multiple, divergent and varied perspectives on an extensive range of public policy issues.” While opponents of the bill spoke against this language calling it vague, supporters said the term said faculty must allow intellectual diversity to be expressed. 

However, critics of the bill, such as Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, argued the bill may weaken historical accuracy by mandating professors to teach all sides of historical events, such as U.S. slavery and the Holocaust.

The bill also seeks to prohibit academic and financial ties between Ohio's higher education institutions and those in China due to national security concerns unless certain safeguards are in place.

However, the ban does not extend to admissions, allowing Chinese students to attend Ohio colleges and universities. Existing relationships between universities in China and Ohio may still exist but must be reported to the chancellor.

Additionally, students would be required to pass an American government or history class for graduation, with a reading list that includes the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address and Letter from Birmingham Jail.

In May 2023, Ohio University collaborated with state legislators and the Inter-University Council of Ohio, or ICU, which represents all Ohio four-year public universities, to provide input and voice their concerns about the legislation.

While acknowledging the bill's benefits, such as diversity of thought and faculty protection, IUC also noted concerns like increased government regulation in universities.

"Any limiting or mandating what may or may not be taught or how it may be taught in the classroom is a violation of academic freedom and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” according to an IUC press release.

OU said they have advocated for the university’s core values and will continue working with IUC to address their concerns with SB 83.

“I cannot, in good conscience as a journalism professor, ignore things that have happened that are relevant to course content; that are preparing journalism students to be better at what they do; that are relevant to having a liberal arts degree; that are relevant to being global citizens,” Young said.


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