Outside Dunbar Library | Photo by Arden Reimer | The Wright State Guardian
State Senator Jerry C. Cirino’s introduction of Senate Bill 83 presents a possibility of sweeping changes in university educational curriculum throughout the state of Ohio.
From the Wright State President’s desk
Wright State President Sue Edwards addressed the ramifications of this bill in an email written to students and staff. Edwards mentioned multiple areas of impact, including diversity, equity and inclusion practices, syllabus requirements, training, faculty workload and evaluation, financial reporting and other such administrative areas.
“This proposed legislation is extensive and, as it is currently written, will impact several areas of Wright State University operations,” Edwards wrote in the March 27 university-wide email.
The email added that Wright State University is working with the Inter-University Council to address concerns about the proposed legislation.
What is SB 83?
According to Cirino, SB 83, also known as the Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act, will guarantee Ohio’s university and college students get a deserving, outstanding education.
“This bill will move us toward true academic freedom,” Senator Cirino said. “We need students to be taught how to think, not what to think.”
Under the bill’s proposal, there would be no requirements for diversity, equity or inclusion courses for students, staff or faculty, according to section 1713.57.B3. Additionally, the bill would eliminate teacher labor strikes.
Concerns in the classroom
The language of SB 83 as written raises issues for university education. Brian Boyd, Wright State Faculty Senate president, discussed the issue with the bill.
“SB 83 has a variety of things that are put into it, and most of which I think is problematic for higher education in Ohio,” Boyd said. “It seems kind of obvious that the places, the departments that would be affected by this, are history, history classes, political science classes, as far as the curriculum that might be now in bounds or out of bounds as far as if this bill was to take place,” Boyd said.
One requirement in the bill is three hours of history study mandatory for all students beginning in 2026. The study would include readings of the Constitution, Emancipation Proclamation, Gettysburg Address and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birmingham jail letters.
Dr. Laura Luehrmann, professor of political science and chair of the School of Social Sciences and International Studies, discussed the issue with the legislation.
“I teach Dr. King’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail,’ and I don’t know how one can discuss this document without a critical lens,” Luehrmnann said. “Dr. King highlighted the importance of what he called ‘constructive tension’ that helps others see the source of injustice, the source of problems, so that a genuine, inclusive resolution may come into being.”
Section 3345.0217 states “controversial belief or policy” means any belief or policy that is the subject of political controversy, including large issues, such as climate change, electoral politics, foreign policy, diversity, equity and inclusion programs, immigration policy, marriage or abortion.
“I believe there are people on campus that work on policy around climate, so like, political science class that might focus on climate legislation, so that’s something we’re not allowed to talk about or teach,” Boyd said. “So yeah, that seems problematic, and a place where we’re supposed to be diving into topics that are important for fields, not just because they’re controversial, that now we’re not and better to stay away from them.”
Section 3345.591.E is about foreign relations and academic institutions in China.
“No state institution of higher education shall enter 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,” the section states.
Luehrmann thinks this portion of the legislation is unwise and potentially damaging.
“Relations between the People’s Republic of China and the United States are the most strained that they have been since their establishment in the 1970s, at the same time that they are the most important,” Luehrmann said. “We need more American students studying abroad and more American faculty conducting research with their Chinese counterparts, so that our future leaders in all sectors (business, politics, science, healthcare, etc.) better understand this richly diverse and extremely important country,” Luehrmann added.
Section 4117.14. SB 83 states that employees of any state institution are not allowed to strike under the bill’s parameters. Boyd discussed the possible ramifications of this amendment.
“For groups in the state that have organized and have collective bargaining rights, that seems to be a pretty big thing to take off the table if we’re supposed to negotiate in good faith. Forcing one group to not be able to take collective action seems a little unfair,” Boyd said.
Keeping track of SB 83
Boyd expressed the importance of Wright State students and faculty keeping track of this bill. Luehrmann serves as the chair of the Ohio Faculty Council, which organizes faculty leaders in 14 other colleges and universities throughout the state.
“Our members are extremely concerned about this draft legislation and are working with colleagues to prepare joint resolutions and testimony for elected officials to not only express our concerns with many of the pieces of the draft legislation but more importantly to highlight the excellent work that our faculty and staff conduct within our colleges and universities,” Luerhmann said.
For regular updates about this Ohio bill, visit the General Assembly’s website.