Ohio Senate Passes Controversial Higher Education Reform Legislation

May 30, 2023 | Advocacy

The Ohio Senate passed S.B. 83 (Cirino) on Wednesday, May 17 by a vote of 21-10, with three Senate Republicans joining all Senate Democrats in opposition. The wide-ranging measure generated controversy and opposition because of proposed changes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training, reforms to tenure, bars striking by university employees, requires public universities to refuse gifts or contributions from the government of China or organizations suspected to be working on behalf of the Chinese government, and requires university board of trustees to adopt a policy requiring the institution to not endorse or oppose any controversial belief or policy, among numerous other changes. “Controversial belief or policy” is defined in the bill as “any belief or policy that is the subject of political controversy, including issues such as climate policies, electoral politics, foreign policy, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, immigration policy, marriage, or abortion,” which many critical opponent witnesses have argued would require, for example, the teaching of unscientific concepts related to climate change.

Proponents describe the bill as a “urgently needed course correction” for higher education in Ohio, as said by the bill’s sponsor, Senator Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland), during the Senate floor debate. Sen. Cirino continued describing the urgency saying, “If we do not act now, I fear we will continue down the path of servitude to a woke agenda for which there will be no return.”

The Ohio State University Board of Trustees took the rare action of issuing a statement opposing S.B. 83 prior to the floor vote. The statement noted the OSU trustees’ intent to adopt a resolution that reaffirms the value of intellectual diversity and to update hiring practices. During the floor debate, Sen. Cirino cited the statement as evidence the legislation is working even before it becomes law.

Following session, Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) told reporters he expects elements of the legislation to become part of the Senate’s version of the state operating budget, H.B. 33.

A companion bill, H.B. 151 (Demetriou; Williams) is pending in the House Higher Education Committee. S.B. 83 and H.B. 151 do not impact private universities and colleges.

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