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Supporters of Ohio’s higher education overhaul argue it would promote intellectual diversity


Supporters of Ohio’s higher education overhaul argue it would promote intellectual diversity

Mar 30, 2023 | 4:55 am ET
By Megan Henry
Supporters of Ohio’s higher education overhaul argue it would promote intellectual diversity
A university professor addressing his students during a lecture. Getty Images.

Five educators spoke up in support Wednesday of a gigantic higher education bill proposed by lawmakers that would, among other things, require American history courses and tenure evaluations based on if the educator showed bias or taught with bias, and prohibit university staff and employees from striking. 

Proponents of Senate Bill 83, introduced earlier this month by state Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, spoke during the committee on workforce and higher education with little questioning from the five-member committee. 

“This legislation is badly needed,” said George Dent, a professor of emeritus law at Case Western Reserve University. 

While those who spoke said the bill wasn’t perfect, they were still in full support of SB 83. 

“As is the case with many large omnibus bills, there are sections which we hope will be refined and improved during the amendment process, but overall, we enthusiastically commend this legislation’s visionary boldness at a time when American higher education is in urgent need of a course correction,” said Michael Poliakoff, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. 

Intellectual diversity

Some of the educators who spoke Wednesday said Ohio university faculty rosters lean more liberal than conservatives — arguing that this stifles intellectual diversity.

“This does a great disservice to students,” Dent said. “The introduction of intellectual diversity will force scholars on the left to improve their scholarship by refining and defending their views.”

Hal R. Arkes, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Ohio State University, said that the liberal to conservative ratio is 88 to 3 in English, 75 to 9 in social sciences, 81 to 9 in humanities, and 81 to 2 in political science, though he did not share his source for those ratios.

“Many opponents of Senate Bill 83 claim that it would diminish the willingness of potential faculty members to come to Ohio,” he said. “However the data show that the current situation certainly diminishes the ability of conservative faculty to come to Ohio, because they never would be offered a faculty position.”

Labor unions have previously expressed concern over possible consequences of the bill if it were to pass — that this would deter educators and researchers from applying to work at Ohio universities, current researchers would leave Ohio and students wouldn’t attend Ohio universities.

“This certainly could lead to brain drain,” Robert Rubin, president of AAUP’s Wright State University chapter, previously told the OCJ. “Students are going to go where they believe they can get the best education for their money. And I could foresee some students deciding that maybe Ohio isn’t the right place.”

American history

SB 83 would require college students take an American history course.

President of the National Association of Scholars Peter Wood said very few students graduating from college know much about American history at all.

“Creating a general education course ensures that they know something about the American founding, the constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers,” he said. “This is a requirement that fills a gap that has been opened wider and wider.”

Richard Vedder, a distinguished professor of economics emeritus at Ohio University, told the committee a story about how was working on a plan to teach economic history after retiring, but was told by OU President Hugh Sherman that the university doesn’t “need another history person.” 

“If Senate Bill 83 were law, the chances of that happening likely would have been significantly reduced,” Vedder said. 

[Post-tenure review/subhed]

To make a point during questioning, Cirino asked Akers a question about post-tenure review and mandatory performance reviews. SB 83 would require tenure evaluations based on if the educator showed bias or taught with bias, and the students would also evaluate. 

“Do you think that any of the business schools are teaching management courses to future entrepreneurs and business executives that when they get out of school and go into business, that they should guarantee their employees jobs for life and no performance reviews to monitor their behavior. Is that happening in any of our business schools?” Cirino asked.

“I’m pretty sure that’s not happening not only in business schools, but in any business school ever, anywhere,” Akers replied. 

At the end of the committee meeting, a woman loudly asked the committee members if there was going to be a chance to respond to the proponents of SB 83, but Cirino explained that would take place during the opponent testimony.  

Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on Twitter.