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SB 83/HB 151: Important Updates & Forum

Substitute Senate Bill 83 (“Sub. SB 83”)
substitute version of Senate Bill 83 was released by sponsor Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) and formally adopted today, May 9, by the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee, of which Sen. Cirino is chair.

Despite several changes that make clarifications and water down certain provisions, the bill is still deeply flawed and represents vast government overreach that undermines academic freedom, workers’ rights, and institutional autonomy. In fact, the bill has become even more detrimental in terms of new language that would place more limitations on collective bargaining.

Below are details about what changed, what is new, and what stayed the same from the original bill to the “sub bill.”

What changed?
-The bill no longer applies to private institutions of higher education.

-The section banning required diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) was revised to allow for certain exemptions. Exemptions must be approved by the chancellor and be required for compliance with federal law, licensure, accreditation, grants, or cooperative agreements.

-The workload provision was changed from language that mandated 30 credit hours for faculty on 12-month appointments to say that full-time faculty shall have a mandated 30 credit hour workload, and that faculty with less than a full-time appointment shall have their workloads prorated based on the 30 hour formula. It mandates boards of trustees to approve a definition of full-time faculty as part of the institution’s workload policy. Workload policies are to include a definition of all faculty workload elements in terms of credit hours.

-The requirement for syllabi to contain biographical information about faculty was changed to require “professional qualifications” of faculty.

-The bill now clarifies that Chinese students can attend and pay tuition and fees to Ohio institutions. Ohio institutions also can have academic relationships with Chinese institutions; however, “safeguard requirements” have to be met and relationships must have approval from the Chancellor in consultation with the Attorney General.

-The substitute bill revokes the language mandating intellectual diversity rubrics for classes, and clarifies that the bill is not meant to prohibit faculty or students from classroom instruction, discussion or debate, so long as faculty are committed to expressing and allowing the expression of intellectual diversity. However, the bill still requires institutions to develop a range of disciplinary measures against faculty and staff who interfere with “intellectual diversity rights.”

-The new version revises language to clarify that prohibitions on policies designed to segregate based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression apply only to credit-earning classroom settings, formal orientation ceremonies, and formal graduation ceremonies. While this still is problematic and leaves aspects open to interpretation regarding certain courses that deal with the aforementioned subjects, it does remove the concern that the bill’s language would have applied to student organizations and athletic teams.

-The bill no longer requires faculty evaluation results to be posted on institutional websites.

What is new?
-New language was added to require boards of trustees to develop policies on tenure and retrenchment and to update those policies every five years. The bill goes further to specify that tenure, retrenchment, faculty evaluations, and workload are not appropriate subjects for collective bargaining for future contracts, and that the policies developed by boards of trustees would prevail over any conflicting provision of a collective bargaining agreement.

-The substitute bill includes new language in regards to endowments and donor intent. This is similar language to what Sen. Cirino attempted to include in a bill he sponsored during the previous legislative session (SB 135).

-The new version of the bill would reduce trustee terms from nine years to four years.

What stayed the same?
-As mentioned above, the bill still requires institutions to discipline faculty and staff for interference with intellectual diversity rights. It also still contains language that faculty shall not seek to “inculcate” students. It still fails to provide any detail about process for anyone accused of interfering with intellectual diversity rights or inculcation.

-Ban on required DEI outside of the abovementioned exemptions.

-Ban on strikes by faculty and other unionized campus employees.

-Specific syllabi requirements and making syllabi public and searchable.

-Annual faculty evaluations for all faculty, which weight student evaluations as 50% of the teaching assessment.

-Post-tenure review (PTR), which gives broad authority to administrative officials to call for PTR, which may lead to termination. Under the bill, a tenured faculty member’s academic freedom is only protected in terms of “allowable expression” under Ohio law, meaning if SB 83 becomes law, accusations of inculcation or lack of intellectual diversity could result in PTR and termination. This renders tenure meaningless and academic freedom unprotected.

-Prohibition on using diversity statements in hiring and promotion decisions.

-Various unfunded mandates that will require resources, but add no value to higher education.

In short, the changes to the bill fail to assuage our very serious concerns. In fact, this new version, in some respects, is worse than the original draft, particularly as it pertains to proposing new constraints on collective bargaining. It couldn’t be clearer that Sen. Cirino is trying to take away bargaining power from faculty unions. This is the worst assault on union rights since Senate Bill 5 in 2011, and the worst assault on academic freedom that we have ever seen. We are still staunchly opposed to SB 83, and will continue to do everything in our power to prevent its passage.

Next Steps for Sub. SB 83
In terms of next steps, we have heard that the Senate plans on passing Sub. SB 83 next week. It is possible that some or all of the bill is amended into HB 33, the state operating budget bill. Sen. Cirino has not yet stated whether any testimony will be accepted on Sub. SB 83 before it is passed from committee.

First Hearing for HB 151
Tomorrow, May 10, House Bill 151–the companion legislation to SB 83–will get its first hearing in the House Higher Education Committee. The hearing is for sponsor and proponent testimony, which signals that this House Committee may be attempting to fast-track the bill (typically sponsor and proponent testimonies are held separately). It appears that the committee also plans to adopt the substitute version of SB 83 for its own substitute version of HB 151.We do not yet have confirmation, but Wednesday, May 17 may be the opportunity for opponent testimony on HB 151. We will inform members as soon as we have confirmation of these details.

What we are sure of, no matter when the opponent hearing for HB 151 might be, is that we want as much opponent testimony submitted to the committee as possible. In person testimony is always most effective, but even submitting written testimony is important. In the Senate, there were more than 500 pieces of opponent testimonies submitted, and we want to exceed that in the House. We must keep up the pressure and impress upon legislators that these bills are widely opposed.

Another Cirino Higher Ed Bill: Senate Bill 117
In addition to Sub. SB 83, Sen. Cirino recently introduced another piece of higher education legislation, Senate Bill 117, which would establish new institutes at Ohio State University and University of Toledo to study civics and American constitutional thought. Similar to SB 83, the purported goal is to promote “intellectual diversity.” The bill prescribes appropriations to fund the institutes, which lends itself to ultimately being folded into HB 33, the state operating budget bill. You can find the text and analysis for SB 117 here.

Thursday, May 11 Forum on Sub. SB 83/HB 151
This Thursday, May 11 at 6:00 pm, in conjunction with the Honesty for Ohio Education coalition, there will be a forum to discuss the substitute version of Senate Bill 83/House Bill 151. The forum also will include a testimony workshop. Join us and spread the word! You can register for the forum here.

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