May 16, 2023The Honorable Jerry Cirino
Dear Senator Cirino,
As the President and CEO of the Inter-University Council of Ohio (IUC), I submit to you, on behalf of our 14 public universities, this letter regarding Substitute Senate Bill 83 (SB83) for your consideration.
The IUC was established in 1939 as a voluntary educational association of Ohio’s public universities. Together, these institutions offer a broad range of associate, baccalaureate, graduate, and professional programs. Ohio’s public universities collectively contribute approximately $68.9 billion to Ohio’s economy and support one out of every eight jobs in Ohio. Our member institutions extend into every corner of Ohio. We have some of the most robust and distinctive public universities in the country. Each of our campuses is unique. We have different campus cultures, and we have different campus perspectives. On many issues we speak with one voice, and on occasion we speak with multiple voices.
Public universities believe in civil discourse, the exchange of ideas, and compromise. We are committed to excellence, acting with integrity, personal accountability, change and innovation, and the creation and dissemination of knowledge, to name just a few. We believe the shared governance systems at our institutions work well and would like to preserve these policies. We believe in supporting our students, faculty, and employees for their benefit and the benefit of the entire community.
Collaboration between the Sponsor and the Universities
IUC appreciates the hours you invested with us to better understand our institutions and concerns. We believe the substitute bill addressed several of those concerns, yet we still have unresolved issues. We are committed to working together to make these changes. We recognize the importance of the legislature in establishing, funding, and overseeing our universities. Our partnership is critical as we look at a declining population, global talent wars, and increasing competition for our workforce, especially in the most in-demand job sectors that require our graduates.
IUC appreciates the effort to make seemingly small changes that could have a substantial and positive impact. For example, what appears to be deceivingly simple changes to terms like “affirm and guarantee” will reduce our vulnerability to lawsuits. Other changes allow us more latitude in implementing the mandated American government/history courses; in the publication and the content of course syllabi; in the clarification regarding affinity groups gathering at special events on our campuses; and by recognizing the changes we have already made to protect intellectual property from the People’s Republic of China through our close partnership with the federal government, but by also ensuring that we can continue the important cross-cultural exchange with students and faculty from China. These changes are greatly appreciated, and they demonstrate the importance of working together.
Free Speech in the Classroom
We also support your goal to ensure that our institutions are centers for the free exchange of ideas and debate. In your public statements, you have reiterated your support for academic freedom and acknowledges that SB83 “is simply designed to ensure free expression on campus and in the classroom.” We fully support this laudatory goal. Our public universities are where the marketplace of ideas thrives. If there are students, staff, or faculty who have not felt comfortable expressing their opinions in class or in the workplace, we welcome the opportunity to address these concerns. No individual should feel that they cannot convey their opinion or personal philosophy because it may be unpopular. We will continue our work on this front.
Diversity of Thought
We also applaud your objective of reaffirming our goal for the scholarly search for truth as a foundational academic standard. We could not be the home of intellectual, scientific, or pragmatic exchange of ideas if we are monolithic in thought. We will continue to work with you and the General Assembly to achieve these legislative and academic goals.
Acceptance for All
We also thank you for changing the language that could have led to unintended consequences in the bill’s section that prohibited segregation by group identities in areas such as residential housing or extracurriculars. The changes now allow students to participate in single sex extra-curricular sports. We also appreciate the change that recognizes that affinity groups like religious or cultural student groups may have separate organizations and celebrations and that the language referencing these groups applies to only classrooms, orientations, and graduations.
Protecting Our Faculty
While a handful of states are attacking the long-held academic tradition of tenure, we appreciate your recognition of tenure not only for its role in keeping Ohio competitive in recruiting world-class faculty, but also for the importance of protecting free speech. University faculty must have the freedom to ask the tough questions and study the unpopular topics. We appreciate that you took to heart the expertise of the presidents and did not draft a bill that eliminates tenure. IUC also hopes you will consider the presidents’ expertise on the issues of collective bargaining that were included in the substitute bill.
While we recognize and are grateful for some improvement in the substitute bill, IUC still has serious concerns. IUC’s specific issues with SB83 vary by institution, but common concerns are discussed below.
Government Overreach, Increased Bureaucracy, and Costs of Implementation
As SB83 brings more government regulation into our universities it creates unnecessary bureaucracy, duplication of programs, and increased costs. While we acknowledge our status as state institutions that receive public funds, universities have constitutionally been given academic independence to further our goals of intellectual pursuit. In 1957 the US Supreme Court held that:
It is the business of a university to provide that atmosphere which is most conducive to speculation, experiment, and creation. It is an atmosphere in which prevail “the four essential freedoms” of a university – to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.
Any limiting or mandating what may or may not be taught or how it may be taught in the classroom is a violation of academic freedom and the First Amendment of the United State Constitution.
Our institutions have contained costs for our students through our tuition guarantee programs and other cost-cutting measures. That is why we worry about the expense of implementing this bill. We applaud your work with us to reduce the price tag, but we still see exceptional costs in implementation without a corresponding way to pay for these programs. One example can be found under the requirement for disciplining violations of intellectual diversity. When determining the costs, the universities were able to provide a total sector cumulative cost of $1,331,033. Furthermore, regulating everyone on campus, including transient visitors, could potentially chill protected freedom of expression. What constitutes “interference” with “intellectual diversity rights” is not established in common law. Legal expenditures and increased administrative support by individuals with requisite knowledge of statutory construction and constitutional law will be necessary to pursue sanctions through an appropriate process, which affords any potential respondent with required due process.
SB83 brings more government regulation into our universities and creates unnecessary bureaucracy and duplication of programs. One example is the requirement for an administrator to monitor all course syllabi mandated to be posted on a university’s website. In addition to monitoring, an administrator at the university will have to report that information to the chancellor, who will then share the new chancellor’s report to the following offices: governor, the speaker of the house, the president of the senate and the chairs of the senate and house higher education committees. This provision is just one example of increasing our administrative burdens. It puts our universities at a disadvantage, hinders our workforce efforts, and contributes to administrative bloat. This legislature has repeatedly championed the reduction of regulations and bureaucratic growth, but over the past few years the amount of increased bureaucratic burdens to our institutions has grown exponentially. SB83 includes yet more administrative responsibility for our universities, adds more layers of government bureaucracy, and it is an extraordinary level of detailed oversight of the administration of Ohio’s public universities.
As part of constitutional jurisprudence, vague terms must be clearly defined to enable implementation and enforcement. First, we appreciate the new definition of “intellectual diversity” as it provides the universities with sufficient notice. However, IUC is concerned that there are terms in SB83 that are so vague as to make one question what speech is being prohibited, and thus these statutes may be found to be void. Phrases like “matters of social and political importance;” “controversial matters;” and “any social, political, or religious point of view” are phrases so broad and subjective that universities cannot ascertain the meaning without guessing. They may become a moving target and change depending on who will be enforcing these provisions. Particularly when these definitions include the term “such as,” meaning that the lists of concepts in the bill are not exhaustive, and universities must guess as to what may become a political controversy or a topic of debate in the future. There are ways to draft the legislation that will reach the desired result of protecting speech and encouraging intellectual diversity without using unconstitutionally vague terms. We look forward to working with the legislature to adopt such language.
Underappreciation of Student Success Programs aka DEI
One of the most potentially important parts of the bill is the prohibition on mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training. Data shows, DEI efforts help create an academic community that generates a higher enrollment rate, matriculation rate, and eventual success rate. DEI is for students with disabilities, veterans with PTSD, minority students, and students who are New Americans who may need extra help due to language or cultural barriers. DEI helps more students achieve the American Dream of success via a college education.
Our public universities currently do not use a litmus test for hiring that requires new faculty to affirm certain beliefs, and IUC concurs with the SB83 provision that prohibits litmus tests. However, accrediting entities, like the Higher Learning Commission, have mandatory DEI requirements. IUC appreciates that the substitute bill would allow mandatory DEI training in some circumstances. However, we have reservations about the bill language because requiring prior approval by the chancellor may hamper a university’s ability to apply for research grants in a timely manner. Some of the largest federal funders for Ohio have established funding criteria that includes evidence of DEI initiatives within the institution. We don’t want to put our universities at a disadvantage to other states when competing for research grants. IUC suggests clarifying the bill by including “mandatory” at 3345.0217(C)(1). IUC also suggests an approach similar to Florida, which only requires prior approval when the DEI training is for accreditation. The language passed by the Florida legislature that allows for DEI programing specifies it is permissible for:
[C]ompliance with general or federal laws or regulations; for obtaining or retaining institutional or discipline-specific accreditation with the approval of either the State Board of Education or the Board of Governors; or for access programs for military veterans, Pell Grant recipients, first generation college students, nontraditional students, “2+2” transfer students from the Florida College System, students from low-income families, or students with unique abilities.
Prohibiting all DEI also puts Ohio’s students at a disadvantage in the workforce. Many employers are looking for well-educated individuals who can perform in a diverse work environment. We hear it from employers who interview on our campuses and those who are looking to relocate to Ohio.
New Endowment Provisions
IUC is still reviewing the new endowment language. Historically, IUC has opposed similar endowment language, and we look forward to working with the legislature as the bill moves through the process.
Economic Impact of Our Institutions on the State’s Economy
As previously stated, in fiscal year 2021-22, Ohio’s public universities contributed $68.9 billion to Ohio’s economy. That value is approximately equal to 8.8% of the state’s total gross state product. Expressed in terms of jobs, the universities’ impact supported 866,782 jobs. As strong drivers of the economy we look forward to working with the legislature to educate our students and help grow the economy.
We appreciate you working with IUC and taking some of our suggestions. However, IUC institutions still have serious concerns. As Ohio’s public universities are varied, the positions and concerns with the bill are also varied. We look forward to continuing our relationship with the Ohio General Assembly on SB83 and on other workforce development efforts. We have many areas of future cooperation: expanding internship opportunities, decreasing the amount of time to get degrees, better pipelining for future workforce, building entrepreneurial programs, and ensuring Ohio remains competitive in the global economy, to name just a few. The opportunities to collaborate are vast. Freedom of speech and intellectual diversity are pillars of our society. IUC is appreciative of your willingness to consider our suggestions, and we look forward to continuing to work with you as this bill moves through the legislature.Sincerely,
 Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 4 Wheat. 518 (1819).
cc: Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee, Senate Majority and Minority Leadership, House Higher Education Committee, House Majority and Minority Leadership, Representative Demetriou, Representative Williams, and Chancellor Randy Gardner
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The Inter-University Council is a voluntary educational association of Ohio’s public universities.
Laura Lanese, President & CEO
Inter-University Council of Ohio