Ohio Legislature to Establish Independent Centers Focused on Civics
The Ohio state legislature is taking steps to challenge the dominance of liberal ideas at two of the state’s major public universities by establishing a pair of independent centers focused on civics. Republican state Sen. Jerry Cirino introduced SB 117 as part of his efforts to reform higher education. The legislation, if enacted, would establish the Salmon P. Chase Center for Civics, Culture, and Society at the Ohio State University and the Institute of American Constitutional Thought and Leadership at the University of Toledo.
Building a More Neutral Infrastructure
Cirino told the Washington Examiner in an interview that SB 117 builds on another bill he introduced earlier in the session, SB 83, which restricts diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at universities and aims to ensure viewpoint diversity on college campuses where liberal politics are dominant. “What we’re looking to do with these institutes is to set up an infrastructure that is going to be more neutral,” Cirino said. “We’re talking about having scholarly, intellectually diverse opportunities for students to take courses that are going to present … all of the founding documents and other key documents in the history of the United States.”
Encouraging Free Speech and Academic Freedom
The proposed legislation is similar to another proposal in North Carolina that riled the liberal faculty at the University of North Carolina. Last month, more than 600 UNC faculty signed an open letter that said legislation requiring students to learn about the nation’s founding documents “violates core principles of academic freedom.” Cirino said he would like to see a wide range of faculty come and fill positions at the new centers and that he wants the professors at the institutes to be “without agendas.”
Under the provisions in SB 117, the center at Ohio State would be allocated $5 million annually, and the center at the University of Toledo will get $3 million over the next two years. Cirino’s legislation earned endorsements from two free speech advocacy groups, which said the proposed centers offer a needed alternative to the intellectual rigidity of most state universities.
- Connor Murnane, the director of engagement and mobilization at the Foundation of Individual Rights and Expression, told the Washington Examiner that the proposed center provides students with a place to learn about free expression but also gives alumni a more meaningful opportunity to donate to their alma mater.
- Cherise Trump, the executive director of Speech First, a campus free speech advocacy organization, likewise said she was “encouraged by the state’s goals to embrace our country’s most fundamental practices such as open inquiry and debate.”
“Today, there are campus policies that encourage students to report on each other for speech they find ‘offensive’ or ‘biased,'” Trump, who is not related to the former president, said. “If students had a better understanding of their constitutional rights, the rights of their peers, and the values of viewpoint diversity and free speech in American culture, they would be less inclined to utilize these anonymous informant systems designed to increase administrative control over student thought by deterring and censoring their speech.”
The Ohio state senator said he is quite confident that both bills he introduced will become law in the coming months. Republicans hold a supermajority in both legislative chambers, and the state has a Republican governor in Mike DeWine. “Students pay dearly for their education and very often go into significant debt,” Cirino said. “We owe it to those students to give them the best education they can get, and so we have to focus on quality.”
With the establishment of these independent centers, Ohio is taking a step towards providing students with a more intellectually diverse education and encouraging free speech and academic freedom on college campuses.
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