COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A pair of bills that aim to restructure higher education in the state are moving through the Ohio Statehouse but are garnering pushback from students, administrators and faculty.
“We’re going to be afraid of legislation, we’re going to be afraid of lawsuits, we’re going to be afraid of the next levels that come out of this,” Ohio State University Professor Christopher McKnight Nichols said. “It is state level overreach into higher education, into really diverse range of higher ed institutions.”
Senate Bill 83 and House Bill 151 would do things like require that syllabi are posted publicly online, and prohibit universities from mandating diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs.
Representative Josh Williams is sponsoring the House bill and said this bill will protect students from being ostracized for having differing opinions.
“And they’re not going to be brainwashed by being forced to take classes that deal with DEI issues where professors are clearly bias by the issues and teach it with the idea that there are universal truths with some of these controversial social issues,” Williams said. “Our higher education institutions are just lacking diversity of thought.”
Nichols sees it differently and said the bill is an overreach, saying the bill contains “numerous provisions, that are often vaguely worded…that are likely to make the most vulnerable students, faculty and staff feel and act more vulnerable.”
“It’s forcing intuitions to affirm that they won’t do anting that might undercut their particular vision of ideological diversity and in doing so it makes it harder to do diversity equity and inclusion,” he said.
The bill also prohibits state institutions “from entering into academic relationships with academic institutions located in China or academic institutions located in another country and associated with the People’s Republic of China.”
“I don’t think that putting prohibitions against higher education parenting with Chinese intuitions and some of the vague language there that suggest Chinese students are not welcome is a good idea,” Nichols said. “I think it’s a bad way to do the national security kinds of politics that are better left to the state department, the federal government.”
“We want to make sure China does not have a hand in trying to shape our institutions of higher learning who, in turn, shape the mind of our young students,” Williams said.
Williams did say there will be a “substantial amendment” to the bill, including one to “clear the language up” surrounding the section about interactions with China.
“We’re not trying to target students who come from China, and we do not want to target corporations who have cooperative agreements with China,” he said.
The bill would also require an American government class to be taught with a specific list of readings, beginning in the spring of 2027. The readings include the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, five essays from the Federalist Papers, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, and the Letter from Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Students, in order to engage in open and honest dialogue, have to have foundation,” Williams said. “And the foundation for our country is the founding documents and principles and the men and sometimes women who were debating those issues.”
“There are some legitimate concerns with higher ed today. I don’t think any faculty, staff or student would disagree with that,” Nichols said. “But I don’t think there are any systematic problems in the way it is asserted in the subtext of the bill.”
As of now, neither the Senate nor House bill is scheduled for any committee hearings this week.
“We want to make sure that students are allowed to have open and honest debate,” Williams said. “That students are allowed to have alternative viewpoints and that they’re not going to be punished academically (for having different viewpoints).”
“This conversation that we’re having is peculiarly absent from the kinds of campuses they’re trying to legislate,” Nichols said. “That’s the problem.”