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State budget creates $24 million ‘intellectual diversity’ centers at five Ohio universities




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

New “intellectual diversity” centers will be created at Ohio State University, the University of Toledo, Miami University, Cleveland State University and the University of Cincinnati.

These five centers were included in the state’s two-year, $191 billion budget that Gov. Mike DeWine signed earlier this month. But some faculty at those universities don’t like the looks of it.

“It strikes me as state overreach,” said Christopher Nichols, a history professor at Ohio State.

Senate Bill 117

The Ohio Senate added Senate Bill 117, which created the centers at the various universities, to the state budget and DeWine kept it in. DeWine issued 44 vetoes to the budget, including a student’s right to decline vaccines required for enrollment or residence in a dorm at a public or private university and another provision that would have removed OSU student trustees from having voting power.

SB 117 originally created the Salmon P. Chase Center for Civics, Culture, and Society at Ohio State University John Glenn College of Public Affairs and the Institute of American Constitutional Thought and Leadership at the University of Toledo’s College of Law. State Sens. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, and Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, introduced the bill in May.

An amendment to SB 117 — added on the Senate floor days before the budget was signed into law — tacked on Miami, Cleveland State and Cincinnati to the list of universities to get centers for civics, culture and society. Democratic senators said those universities didn’t receive a heads up about being added to the bill.

Cleveland State and Cincinnati said they are now in the early stages of planning for their centers. Miami did not respond to questions sent by the OCJ.

“We are just now working with the state, working with the State Senate to think about what that means for us, how it will be structured, what their expectations are, so it will be a while before we have any more information on what that will look like for us,” said Jack Miner, vice provost for enrollment management at the University of Cincinnati.

What will these centers do?

All of the centers will be independent academic units.

The University of Toledo’s institute is “established for the purpose of creating and disseminating knowledge about American constitutional thought and to form future leaders of the legal profession through research, scholarship, teaching, collaboration and mentorship,” according to the bill.

The centers at Ohio State, Miami, Cleveland State and Cincinnati “shall conduct teaching and research in the historical ideas, traditions, and texts that have shaped the American constitutional order and society,” according to the bill.

The state’s budget allocates $24 million for these centers — $5 million each fiscal year to Ohio State, $1 million each fiscal year to Toledo and $2 million each fiscal year for each center at Miami, Cleveland, and Cincinnati.

“These allocations of funds are likely to be wasted,” Nichols said. “It is not a great use of money and therefore not likely to be implemented well.”

He worries that money ultimately won’t be enough to successfully run the centers and is concerned about what will happen after money from the state’s budget runs out.

That money, he said, would be better spent on student scholarships.

“It’s going to end up being essentially a waste of resources,” said Steve Mockabee, an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati and a member of the Ohio Conference American Association of University Professors.

Bills like SB 117 should never have been added to the state budget in the first place, he said.

“Those are things that should be debated and discussed and go through the normal committee process and amendment process and lots of input from the public,” Mockabee said. “Unfortunately our legislature has pretty much abandoned normal operations.”

The centers at Miami, Cincinnati, and Cleveland State will be housed within the college of arts and sciences. The bill requires those universities to have at least 10 faculty members in the centers and to have an academic advisory council appointed by Dec. 31, with the consent of the Senate.

The council at all five universities will conduct a nationwide search for candidates for a director, who will ultimately report directly to the provost or university president.

Ohio State University

Ohio State has until Nov. 20 to appoint the center’s academic council, and their center will have at least 15 faculty members.

“The university is working to develop this center in accordance with the law and applicable university rules and policies,” the university said in a statement. “Ohio State is committed to free speech, civil discourse, critical thinking, and intellectual diversity on our campuses and looks forward to further promoting these values in accordance with our educational mission.”

University of Toledo

UT Law Professor Lee Strang first had the idea for the Institute of American Constitutional Thought and Leadership in 2019 after visiting the Georgetown Center for the Constitution and Princeton University’s James Madison Program.

“The Institute will grow to maturity over the course of five years,” Strang said in an email.

Toledo’s institute plans to launch this upcoming academic year and offer at least one class in the first year — likely Ohio Constitutional Law, Strang said.

The plan is to offer more classes in the coming years and some of the other classes being considered by the institute include the Federalist Papers, American constitutional history, transformational Supreme Court cases, and a civil discourse class, among others.

He said the institute also plans on hosting Ohio Supreme Court justices, Sixth District Court of Appeals judges, legislators from both parties and various local attorneys.

“This will attract students because they will benefit from the new classes, the additional faculty, and the additional opportunities for faculty mentorship, research and writing experiences, and professional opportunities,” Strang said in an email.

University of Cincinnati

Mockabee isn’t sure why Cincinnati was added to the bill, especially while the university is in the process of rolling out the Portman Center for Policy Solutions — which will explore bipartisan policy solutions.

“It’s really bizarre that they chose, of all places, for one of these so-called intellectual diversity places because we’re already doing that,” he said. “If they had had a conversation with us, instead of just doing this, they would have been able to learn about that. … I don’t know if they threw darts at a dartboard or what but I can’t see much rhyme or reason to it.”

Cleveland State University

Cleveland State’s center will be housed in the Levin College of Public Affairs and Education.

“We are proud of the work already underway to advance students’ civic engagement and to embed the principles of free expression and thought across our campus,” the university said in a statement. “In many ways, the spirit of this new law is reflected in CSU’s existing actions and policies … With these practices in place, we will be building on a strong foundation as we move forward.”

Even though the bill calls for having at least 10 faculty members, the university has not yet decided how many faculty will be affiliated with the center.

“Because we are still in the early stages of planning, we do not yet have details about the classes or other educational opportunities that will be offered,” Peter Chakerian, a university spokesperson, said in an email.

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

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