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What the Academic Experts are Saying about the Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act

March 31, 2023
Jerry C. Cirino News

From the desk of State Senator Jerry C. Cirino (R-Kirtland):

Five distinguished scholars with impeccable credentials recently testified in strong support of the Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act. These academic experts debunked much of the misinformation and outright falsehoods propagated in the media about Senate Bill 83. 

The truth is, my bill is simply designed to ensure free expression on campus and in the classroom. Critics say the bill promotes censorship -- they have it exactly backwards. This bill will allow students to exercise their right to free speech without threat of reprisal by professors or administrators. It will permit the marketplace of ideas to flourish, which is the ideal environment for any educational institution.

To set the record straight, I am sharing these excerpts of their testimony so you will know what our top scholars are saying about this bill.

Peter W. Wood 
President, National Association of Scholars

The National Association of Scholars enthusiastically endorses Senate Bill 83, the Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act.
SB 83 will do an extraordinary amount to depoliticize Ohio’s public higher education system, strengthen intellectual diversity, and restore its accountability to Ohio policymakers and citizens. We hope that it will swiftly become law.
SB 83 prohibits “ideological litmus tests in hiring and promotion” in state institutions of higher education”—a step that should be welcomed by the people of Ohio across the political spectrum because ideological litmus tests are the enemy of good education and intellectual and scientific achievement, and because such tests are always waiting at the door ready to slip in disguised as wholesome principles. Keeping them out requires vigilance and SB 83 summons the colleges and universities to pay attention where it is needed.

SB 83 is absolutely necessary. As president of NAS for the last fifteen years, and a professor and university administrator for the previous twenty years, I have seen intellectual freedom dwindle nationwide, until it is an empty shell on most college campuses.

Colleges and universities almost all proclaim their commitment to academic freedom. And college leaders can be eloquent in their defense of this principle. But they don’t mean it. We see that in the effective prohibition of debate on contentious topics and in what is now called compelled speech. And we see it when college authorities turn a blind eye to the bullying and shoutdowns that so often foreclose expression of disfavored views.

This problem certainly extends to Ohio’s universities. My colleague John Sailer has written extensively about how so-called “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” bureaucrats at Ohio State University have used diversity statements and other administrative means to prevent all dissenters from radical orthodoxy from getting hired—even in fields such as nuclear engineering. 
Ohio’s universities are no longer capable of reforming themselves to uphold the principles of intellectual freedom. Ohio can only restore its universities to the pursuit of truth, instead of the pursuit of indoctrination, if state policymakers pass a comprehensive reform bill such as SB 83.

Hal R. Arkes, Ph.D.
Emeritus Professor of Psychology at The Ohio State University

I’m here in support of Senate Bill 83. As a researcher I’m going to present more facts than opinions. The first question I want to address is “What is the problem this bill is trying to solve?” There is a two-part answer to this question. The first part is the overwhelming preponderance of liberals versus conservatives among university faculty. In English the liberal to conservative ratio is 88 to 3. In the social sciences it is 75-9. In humanities it is 81 to 9. In political science it is 81-2. These lopsided statistics would be of no concern except that the liberals confess to being discriminatory against conservatives. That is the second part of the answer. 

The lopsided preponderance of liberal faculty does have an effect on faculty hiring. Many opponents of Senate Bill 83 claim that it would diminish the willingness of potential faculty members to come to Ohio. I question this hypothesis. 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. 

Professor Messer-Kruse of Bowling Green State University fears that passage of Senate Bill 83 would hamper his ability to teach his course in ethnic studies. My reading of the bill leads me to disagree. Teaching factual history, including such troubling facts as Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, would not be prohibited. What would be prohibited is a current requirement of a program in the OSU College of Education and Human Ecology that all participants in the program must acknowledge White privilege. In my opinion, this political view or any political view should not be required in order to participate in any Ohio university official program. Senate Bill 83 prohibits this type of political litmus test.

Biology Professor Rissing in a Columbus Dispatch article pointed out “. . . biological insights . . . helped them [students] understand issues of social concern.” He feared that Senate Bill 83 would make his courses boring by prohibiting such a teaching strategy. Again, I respectfully disagree. The bill prohibits inculcating any social, political or religious point of view. In my opinion, many critics of the bill are attacking a “straw man” that doesn’t exist. The bill does not prohibit discussion of social issues. It prohibits indoctrination.

Letters and op-eds in Ohio newspapers contain such fears that Senate Bill 83 is contrary to the elimination of racism, obtaining a more just and equitable society, and promoting peace. These are indeed worthy goals. Does OSU require 132 diversity officials, whose annual pay could fund full tuition for over 1,000 students? Diversity of viewpoint is a worthy goal, too, but discriminating against conservative faculty would seem to limit viewpoint diversity, not foster it.

George Dent 
Professor of Law Emeritus at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland 
Member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Scholars
President of Ohio affiliate of the National Association of Scholars

In sum, there are many severe problems today in higher education in America, including Ohio’s public colleges and universities. Senate Bill 83 is an excellent effort to address and remedy those problems. I strongly urge the Senate to approve it.

Most of the bad ideas that now plague our country began in our universities and have now spread to other organizations, such as the growing number of Woke corporations.

The Foundation for Individual Rights & Expression (FIRE) ... records student perceptions at many campuses. Here is a sample just from Ohio State: 

“Many [students] are afraid that disagreeing with a professor on a topic will lead to the student being treated unfairly in class as well as in our grades.” 
OSU is an “echo chamber that . . . stifles actual discussion and debate."
"Any opinion I have regarding election integrity, vaccination, mask mandates, or LGBT issues I cannot publicly express; otherwise my scholarship, academic livelihood, and family's employment would be at risk." 
"Any graded, written assignment is based on what I think my professor wants to hear."

Everything I have said concerns Ohio State, but in the FIRE’s survey Ohio U., Cincinnati, Miami U., Kent State, and Bowling Green were all rated worse than OSU. The problems are pervasive and systemic.

Traditionally, trustees almost never challenged school administrations in the slightest. Some were concerned mainly about football tickets. This bill recognizes that this attitude has to change if our universities are to become dedicated to education and not to political indoctrination. To achieve serious improvement, trustees will have to grapple with recalcitrant school administrators and faculty.

I have seen allegations that this bill stifles the advocacy of controversial viewpoints. I do not find that in this bill. All of its provisions against taking controversial positions are at the institutional level. Section 3345.0217(B)(7) expressly forbids any institution to require or forbid students or faculty to express any political stance. The only possible restriction on faculty I see there is that faculty may not use the institution’s grading system to punish students who express views with which the instructor disagrees, and I think that is a good thing. 

Several provisions of the bill are designed to promote intellectual diversity on campus. This, too, is badly needed. Surveys have repeatedly shown that faculties are overwhelmingly on the political left, especially in the liberal arts and humanities. This does a great disservice to students. They typically learn that their country’s history and dominant culture and institutions are evil. Most Americans disagree. And how can students learn critical thinking when they are taught only a narrow range of left-wing views and intimidated from expressing contrary opinions? 

With no intellectual competition, scholars become lazy and sloppy in developing their ideas. The result is teaching and scholarship that seem not only off base but bizarre to most Americans. The introduction of intellectual diversity will force scholars on the left to improve their scholarship by refining and defending their views.
Discourse in our universities now is overwhelmingly critical of capitalism and market economies, yet all the prosperous nations in the world have capitalist, market economies. There is not now and never has been successful socialist country.
Dominant discourse on our campuses also holds that America is deeply and systemically racist, yet America is the least racist major country in the world today. Although we still have problems with excessive inequality, including racial inequality, Black people are freer and more prosperous, have more opportunities, and have achieved more in America than in any other country. But you would never learn this in our universities.

Michael Poliakoff
President of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) 
Founded and chaired the Department of Classics at Hillsdale College 
Professor of Latin, Greek, and Classical Civilization at Wellesley College, Georgetown University, George Washington University, and George Mason University 
Former Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary of Education, Director of Education programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Research at the University of Colorado

ACTA has advocated on behalf of high academic standards, accountability, and the free exchange of ideas at America’s colleges and universities. We are pleased to offer our support today to SB 83, the Enact Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act ... we enthusiastically commend this legislation’s visionary boldness at a time when American higher education is in urgent need of a course correction.

Over the past few months, ACTA surveyed students at the Ohio State University (OSU). The findings, soon to be published in full, are not reassuring, and they encourage us to embrace the bold thinking that SB 83 contains.

Here is one example from the survey. We asked the student sample, “On your campus, how often have you felt that you could not express your opinion on a subject because of how students, a professor, or the administration would respond?” A frightening 48% of our Republican sample answered either “Fairly often” or “Very often”; that figure fell to just 8% among Democrat students. 

What SB 83 seeks to redress is the power of bureaucratic offices, commonly known as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), which, despite their fair-sounding name, do more to obstruct the intellectual diversity that is the very lifeblood of higher education and American progress rather than improve it.  

Some programs at Ohio’s public universities are already using mandatory diversity statements for hiring and promotion. Such requirements are likely to spread without bold legislative action such as SB 83.

Richard Vedder
Distinguished Professor of Economics Emeritus at Ohio University
Served on the Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education 
Board Member of the National Association of Scholars

Universities have gone amuck. They are too expensive, teach too little useful knowledge, and, worst of all, are becoming contemptuous of free expression of ideas –the heart of what is necessary both to creating knowledge and aiding in its dissemination. 

I think the existence of an aggressive DEI bureaucracy has jeopardized a wonderful program promoting excellence in academic research at Ohio University.