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Students, professors speak against Ohio bill that would create ‘intellectual diversity’ centers

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On the campus of The Ohio State University, Sept. 2, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal)

University of Toledo law students and Ohio State University professors spoke out in opposition against a bill that would create new centers at both universities that would expand and affirm what sponsors deem “intellectual diversity.”

Senate Bill 117 would create the Salmon P. Chase Center for Civics, Culture, and Society at Ohio State University and the Institute of American Constitutional Thought and Leadership at the University of Toledo’s College of Law.

Eleven people submitted opponent testimony and there was one interested party for SB 117 at Wednesday’s Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee meeting. There was little questioning from the five-person committee.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, and Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, who also introduced a massive higher education bill that would overhaul college campuses that recently passed in the Senate.

SB 117 would give UT $1 million in fiscal year 2024 and $2 million in fiscal year 2025 for the Institute, and Ohio State $5 million in fiscal years 2024 and 2025 for the Center.

$5 million during those two years could pay Ohio State’s full in-state tuition costs for 400 students each year of the biennium, said Steve Mockabee, an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati, speaking on behalf of the Ohio Conference American Association of University Professors.

“At a time when college affordability is a significant concern for Ohio families, we owe it to Ohioans to be sure that funds allocated by the legislature are being spent in ways that maximize their positive impact,” he said.

“We remain deeply concerned that attempts by the General Assembly to override the autonomy of our colleges and universities will have many unintended consequences that damage, not enhance, the climate of free inquiry on our campuses and the quality of education that is offered to our students.”

University of Toledo’s College of Law

UT Law Professor Lee Strang first got the idea for the institute in 2019 and sees this not only as a way to better train future lawyers, but also as a recruiting tool for the university.

But three UT students don’t see it that way.

Megan Anderson, a third year UT law student, said she wouldn’t have picked UT  if the proposed institution was in place. She called the proposed center “a subtraction from our current law school” and said she has talked to others students who have ruled out UT for law school because of this bill.

“Why would the pure existence of this center turn off a student in the first place?” asked Cirino, one of the bill’s sponsors and chair of the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee.

Anderson said students go to law school to make the world a better place and “this institution is not helping with that.”

“It’s not real-world practical experience that I think a lot of students are seeking out when looking for a law school,” she said.

She said UT Law School funding has been on the decline — meaning fewer professors and less courses being offered.

“The narrowly pointed focus of SB 117 fails to address the areas of law where we face significant shortages in specialized professors, such as family law, criminal law, administrative law, and estate law,” Anderson said.

She also worries the College of Law will be forced to absorb funding for the institute once the initial money runs out.

“I think it would require resources that we just don’t have,” she said. “We are running low on classrooms. I’ve taken several classes in the auditorium because the classes are so big they don’t fit into the classrooms.”

Benjamin Noah Woods, a third year UT law student, said the institute would not prepare students for the bar exam, which students must pass in order to practice law.

“This is going to teach us indoctrination of conservative, Christian nationalist interpretations of our Constitution,” he said.

Thirty-four percent of University of Toledo students passed the bar in February and 61% passed in July.

Clifton Porter, a third year law UT law student, said SB 117 is an “unnecessary and frivolous use of state funds.”

He also criticized the language of the bill and the bill’s sponsors for not defining the term “intellectual diversity,” which is used throughout the bill.

“I find this to not only be sloppy, but incredibly dangerous,” he said.

Ohio State University

Richard Fletcher, an associate professor at Ohio State, said SB 117 is a “destructive power grab” to control what is being taught at universities and by whom.

“Here we have arrived at the endgame — universities being told what they can teach and how they should teach,” he said. “Yet it is the students who suffer when their education is gerrymandered in this way.”

The Salmon P. Chase Center would be an independent academic unit and would have a director that would report directly to the provost and university president.

Ohio State already has more than 70 centers, and Christopher Nichols, a history professor at Ohio State, said the Chase Center resembles a small department, school or college.

“What it does not look like as proposed is anything approximating a center or institute as they currently operate at OSU in the social sciences or liberal arts,” he said. “It also would not operate in keeping with how the vast majority of centers and institutes work on virtually all U.S. campuses.”


This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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