Sweeping Ohio Bill Targets Diversity Efforts, Bans College Labor Strikes

Wide-reaching legislation introduced by Republican state Sen. Jerry C. Cirino would ban labor strikes at colleges, prohibit relationships with Chinese colleges, and prevent schools from requiring diversity training.
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  • A Republican-backed bill would restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion training at Ohio colleges.
  • The bill would also prevent higher education employees at public colleges in the state from striking.
  • The legislation prohibits colleges from working with Chinese universities.
  • The bill comes after similar legislation targeting college diversity efforts was introduced in other Republican-led states.

A Republican Ohio state senator introduced sweeping legislation that would ban mandatory diversity training at colleges, prevent schools from collaborating with Chinese institutions, and prohibit labor strikes.

The "Higher Education Enhancement Act" includes a slew of reforms targeting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs. The bill's sponsor, Republican state Sen. Jerry C. Cirino, said in a press release that the bill "would move us toward true academic freedom."

However, education advocates have pushed back on the bill's many restrictions for higher education institutions.

"Senate Bill 83 is another sweeping attempt by Ohio legislators to mimic the worst impulses of the Florida government by importing extremist gag orders targeting higher education," the policy group Honesty for Ohio Education's statement on the bill reads.

"This latest attack on honest education, diversity, equity, and inclusion, worker rights, and Asian culture is an affront to all who believe in honest, inclusive education and a multiracial democracy."

The bill is in some ways similar to legislation introduced in other Republican-led states, like Florida and Texas, targeting diversity programs at colleges. The Ohio bill also includes provisions prohibiting higher education employees from striking and banning colleges from having relationships with China, including donations and study abroad programs.

Stringent Requirements for Public Colleges

The bill would require public colleges to guarantee "intellectual diversity in the classroom and among faculty," according to a press release from Cirino, and ban colleges from requiring diversity, equity, and inclusion training for students and staff.

The legislation would also prohibit "all policies designed explicitly to segregate faculty, staff, or students by group identities such as race, sex, gender identity, or gender expression, including in orientations, majors, financial awards, residential housing, administrative employment, faculty employment, student training, extracurricular activities, and graduations," according to the bill's language.

Another restriction included for public institutions in the bill is a ban on "engaging in or abetting" boycotts, disinvestments, and sanctions.

The bill would also ban "ideological litmus tests in all hiring, promotion and admissions decisions," such as diversity statements or requiring applicants to "describe their commitment to any such ideology or concept," according to the release.

The legislation would require colleges to guarantee in their mission statement that faculty and staff encourage students to "reach their own conclusions" about controversial topics.

The bill broadly defines controversial beliefs and policies as "any belief or policy that is the subject of political controversy, including issues such as climate change, electoral politics, foreign policy, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, immigration policy, marriage, or abortion."

The bill essentially bans colleges from weighing in those "controversial topics" via its mission statement requirements.

College mission statements would also need to "affirm and guarantee that it will not endorse, oppose, comment, or take action, as an institution, on the public policy controversies of the day, or any other ideology, principle, concept, or formulation that requires commitment to any controversial belief or policy, specified concept, or specified ideology, although it may endorse the congress of the United States when it establishes a state of armed hostility against a foreign power."

Those restrictions of diversity, equity, and inclusion policies are similar to the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (Stop WOKE) Act pushed by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. BestColleges previously reported that the Stop WOKE Act, which is currently subject to a legal battle, includes restrictions on teaching concepts around race and gender.

Public higher education institutions would also need to publish searchable course syllabi on their website within three clicks of their home page.

Honesty for Ohio Education blasted the bill's many requirements for colleges, writing that "rather than cultivating learning environments that help students understand complicated aspects of our shared history, uncomfortable truths, and complex systems of power, SB 83 casts an all too familiar chilling effect on education that whitewashes history, sanitizes the truth, and perpetuates discrimination and hate."

Private colleges that receive state funding would be required to submit a statement affirming that they don't require diversity training and don't require "ideological litmus tests" in order to receive that money.

Reporting and Evaluations

The bill would also require annual evaluation for faculty, including a performance evaluation of whether faculty members have classroom environments "free of political, racial, gender, and religious bias."

The legislation would also require colleges to review tenured faculty members every three years and empower school officials to call for a post-tenure review of tenured faculty due to low performance.

Ban on Labor Strikes

The bill adds "employees of any state institution of higher education" to the list of public employees who aren't allowed to strike. That list currently includes essential employees like members of a police or fire department and corrections officers.

Labor unions pushed back on the bill's prohibition on strikes, the Ohio Capital Journal reported, warning that it would "shift the balance of power so much in favor of management" and potentially keep educators and researchers from working at schools in the state.

The Ohio State chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) slammed the bill in a public letter to the university community.

"Under the cover of the language of 'free speech' and 'intellectual diversity,' the Ohio legislation in fact seeks to curtail these academic and democratic values, censoring speech and undermining faculty governance," the Ohio State AAUP letter reads.

Crackdown on Schools Working With Chinese Colleges

The legislation bans public colleges from entering "into any academic relationship with an academic institution located in China or an academic institution that is located in

another country and is associated with the People's Republic of China," according to the bill's language.

The bill also bans colleges from accepting any gifts or donations from China or anyone who "may be" acting on the Chinese government's behalf, "including a student or a student's family member."

The legislation was introduced March 14, according to the Ohio Legislature's website, and hasn't received a committee hearing yet. Republicans hold a trifecta in Ohio with control over the House, Senate and governorship, according to Ballotpedia.