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SB 83 Receives 2nd Hearing in House Committee

Yesterday, Ohio Senate Bill 83 received a second hearing in the House Higher Education Committee. During this hearing, the committee formally adopted an 11th iteration of the legislation.

In what is a variation on the usual practice, bill sponsor Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland), gave another round of sponsor testimony, defending this new version of the bill with support from Chair Tom Young (R-Washington Twp.), who specifically defended the retrenchment language in the bill.

You can view the full bill text, as well as the comparison document for this -11 (“dash 11”) version. You can also view the committee hearing on The Ohio Channel.

Since we so rarely get to share positive news about the legislation, let’s start with the positive changes to the bill:

  • Completely eliminates the no-strike provision. All campus unions would maintain the right to strike.
  • Removes the development of the American government/history course from the purview of the chancellor and instead allows institutions to develop the course–assuaging accreditation concerns.
  • Removes references to “specified concepts” and “specified ideologies,” which were essentially blacklisted topics. However, the bill still contains language about “controversial beliefs or policies,” which it describes as, but does not limit to, the topics of climate policies, electoral politics, foreign policy, immigration policy, marriage, abortion, or diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. The bill restricts institutional speech and contains unclear, broad language about ensuring that faculty allow students to reach their own conclusions on such topics.

Here are the most concerning pieces that remain unchanged and therefore render the bill completely unacceptable from the AAUP perspective:

  • Maintains that faculty unions cannot bargain over retrenchment, evaluations, and tenure. The intent is to make all faculty at-will employees without any real job protections. The bill provides an overly broad definition of retrenchment that essentially would give carte blanche to boards of trustees and administrations to shutter programs and terminate faculty positions.
  • Maintains annual faculty evaluations for all full-time faculty and specific, weighted parameters for those evaluations. This is unnecessary micromanagement, given that institutions already have their own tailored systems of evaluations.
  • Mandates post-tenure review and would give broad authority to administrators to call for post-tenure review at any time, which would effectively eliminate meaningful tenure in Ohio.
  • Opens faculty to unsubstantiated complaints about restricting “intellectual diversity” in their classrooms.
  • Eases public syllabi requirements for community colleges, but maintains that detailed syllabi and instructor contact information and course schedules be easily accessible and searchable on university websites. This proposed requirement is intended to intimidate faculty and would open up faculty to harassment by off-campus trolls.

As you can glean, while the new bill draft makes a few steps in the right direction, it still is unyielding on threats to academic freedom, faculty job security, and union rights. The de facto elimination of tenure protections and job security makes bargaining over any other matters a much more hazardous proposition. Moreover, the de facto elimination of job security eliminates any meaningful academic freedom because it effectively removes meaningful standards for teaching and grading.

If you watch the hearing, you will see that Sen. Cirino struggles to answer important questions about many pieces of the bill. He resorts to claiming that his bill is well-intentioned and being misrepresented by his critics–and that he is relying on good administrators and trustees to do the right things. But, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia once said, “We are governed by laws, not by the intentions of legislators.”

Despite multiple attempts to communicate with Sen. Cirino and Rep. Young on this bill, they have failed to engage at all with OCAAUP or the other two major education unions in Ohio–the Ohio Federation of Teachers and Ohio Education Association. Sen. Cirino and Rep. Young are intent on hearing from only those within their echo chambers, and the small changes we have seen from each iteration of the bill to the next have been made begrudgingly because they knew they did not yet have the necessary votes in the House.

As of now, it is expected that the committee will meet again on November 15, which is also a session day for the House of Representatives. Rep. Young was reported to have said that the committee may allow for proponent and opponent testimony on that day. Conceivably, the committee could pass the bill and send it to the full House floor for a vote all in the same day. However, at this time, it is our understanding that the bill still does not have sufficient support from the requisite number of committee members or from House leadership. We will keep you posted as we obtain more information.

What actions can members and allies take?

1) Sign on to the We Are Ohio union coalition’s letter opposing SB 83. We are Ohio sent this letter–now signed by more than 100 Ohio unions–to State Representatives on September 11, but the sign-on version is an opportunity for individuals and other organizations to add their names and show even greater and more unified opposition. Feel free to share!

2) Focus calls and emails on Speaker Stephens and the Republican committee members who we believe are most open to hearing our objections to the bill:

Rep. Justin Pizzulli: 614-466-2124 or
Rep. Gail Pavliga: 614-466-2004 or
Rep. Gayle Manning: 614-644-5076 or
Rep. Nick Santucci: 614-466-5441 or
House Speaker Stephens: 614-466-1366 or

Let them know that the “dash 11” version of SB 83 is still unacceptable–that it would harm academic freedom, union rights, job protections, quality education, and the ability to attract and keep the best and brightest students and faculty. Feel free to share personal experiences about your teaching and your institution.

3) Talk to your colleagues, write op-eds, and show your opposition in any other manner that is personally meaningful and professional.

Thank you for your continued activism! It has undoubtedly made a difference!

Something that the late, great John McNay wrote to the Senate about SB 83 in May remains true today: “This bill can’t be salvaged, deserves to be killed, and we need to start over to make a genuine effort to address the real problems in higher education.”

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