A statement from The Ohio State University Board of Trustees
Ohio State Trustees oppose Senate Bill 83
The Ohio State University
The Board of Trustees of The Ohio State University announces its opposition to the current version of Senate Bill 83 (SB 83). We acknowledge the issues raised by this proposal but believe there are alternative solutions that will not undermine the shared governance model of universities, risk weakened academic rigor, or impose extensive and expensive new reporting mandates. Trustees will seek to continue to engage with the members of the legislature to address the fundamental flaws in this current version that diminish Ohio State’s ability to fulfill its educational and research missions and negatively impact the state’s economic future.
We share the General Assembly’s commitment to free speech, open dialogue, and the importance of diverse views. The university is already taking steps to again emphasize that all viewpoints are welcome and respected on our campuses. This week, the board plans to approve a resolution reaffirming the foundational values of intellectual diversity as well as adopt a robust, updated campus free speech policy. In April, the university updated its uniform hiring practices to exclude the use of required diversity statements except when mandated by federal law, research contracts, and licensure or accreditation.
Trustees look forward to working with the sponsors of Senate Bill 117 to establish the Salmon P. Chase Center for Civics, Culture, and Society at Ohio State, to broaden even further intellectual diversity on our campuses, and to provide an even better platform for education on the basic tenants of American democracy.
Trustees’ highest priority concerns include:
- The role of faculty, students, staff, administration and Board of Trustees in the shared governance of universities is the hallmark of American higher education. Our faculty bring expertise to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge. State mandates regarding course requirements and content, as well as statutory faculty review processes and legislatively suggested changes to tenure eligibility, usurp the important role of faculty in the partnership, which has created the world’s finest system of higher education.
- Academic rigor is at the foundation of a quality education; SB 83 threatens to impair it by proposing limitations on faculty speech not “favoring or disfavoring” controversial views. Limiting challenging classroom dialogue will diminish the rigor of teaching when, to the contrary, the university should strive to appoint faculty who challenge students to think deeply and analytically. The enforcement provisions for violations of this mandate may push faculty to avoid, rather than encourage, stimulating and challenging classroom discussion, for fear of complaints.
- Research, innovation and education that advance the economic progress of Ohioans is fundamental to Ohio State’s mission. SB 83’s mandated state-approval process for diversity, equity and inclusion commitments – which are frequently required to obtain federal, foundation and industry research funding – introduces obstacles to applying for and securing highly competitive research awards. Imposing a bureaucratic approval process will impair Ohio State’s ability to swiftly pursue the more than 300 competitive research awards it seeks annually and unintentionally place Ohio at a key disadvantage compared to other states and universities.
- SB 83 contains unclear provisions that could introduce new barriers to student success. For example, financial aid programs that assist first-generation and low-income students from across Ohio could run afoul of language mandating equal treatment of all persons. These programs are critical to the success of the university’s students – almost 75% of whom are Ohioans.
- New reporting, evaluation, and state-approval mandates introduced by the bill will significantly expand the administrative bureaucracy trustees seek to reduce. Universities will have to hire significant numbers of new staff to perform these legislatively imposed administrative functions, increasing overhead. The magnitude of the burden being created is best understood in the context of the more than 2,800 tenure-track faculty as well as more than 4,500 non-tenure faculty at Ohio State who would have to go through an additional annual review process under the current version of the bill. Moreover, provisions regulating faculty speech and evaluation will no doubt embroil universities in continuing and costly constitutional litigation. Both the additional administrative bloat and litigation expense will divert resources from student support and universities’ core missions of teaching and research.
- SB 83 seeks to increase the breadth of public discourse but restricts the university’s ability to respond to public policy issues. While the university must be thoughtful and judicious in its statements, there are real instances where the university’s voice is important. For example, Ohio State's statements concerning the medical impacts of COVID-19 and its impairment of hospital resources demonstrate the important public contributions universities make to the discussion of critical social issues.
- SB 83 contains ambiguous provisions that could cause administrative gridlock and First Amendment challenges. Phrases like “matters of social importance,” “opposing perspectives” and “controversial matters” leave faculty, administrators and trustees to guess what speech falls within those parameters. Litigation will inevitably result.
- Fiscal stewardship is paramount in performing oversight of universities in Ohio. Shortening trustee terms undermines good governance and results in the loss of important institutional knowledge. Ohio State is one of the largest and most complex universities in the country with an academic medical center, 15 colleges and a presence in all 88 counties of Ohio. The university’s size, scale and scope require time for trustees to learn and absorb its myriad complexities. Shortening terms negatively impacts knowledgeable oversight and trustee effectiveness. In addition, indefinite reappointments could undermine the checks and balances associated with good governance.
SB 83 raises important questions about 21st-century education and the role of the university in preparing students for civic engagement. Decisions on these issues and how they are resolved could impact our university’s ability to attract the best students, faculty and researchers, and ultimately the quality of higher education at all Ohio public universities. The trustees of Ohio State welcome a fulsome dialogue with the legislature – and other leaders of our state and the academy – to address these issues openly and cooperatively, rather than through an unusually expedited legislative process. We urge the Ohio Senate to allow universities more time to consider the legislature’s concerns. Our shared goal of strong and vibrant public universities for the benefit of all Ohioans can best be achieved by further dialogue.