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Why We Need a Bill to Restore Free Speech on Campus

By Jerry C. Cirino
September 26, 2023
On The Record

Editor’s Note: The Cleveland Plain Dealer refused to publish this editorial because it was too critical of their reporting and commentary. Senate Bill 83 was passed in the Senate and awaits approval in the House.

We sure touched a sore nerve when I introduced my Higher Education Enhancement Act designed to protect academic integrity and free speech on campus at Ohio’s public universities and colleges. 

Ohio Senate Bill 83 immediately became the target of hysterical and hyperbolic screams of anguish in the form of editorials in the Columbus Dispatch and Youngstown Vindicator, and a thinly disguised opinion piece masquerading as a news story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Let’s set the facts straight.

Here’s what my bill is designed to do:

·       Ensure intellectual diversity in the classroom and among the faculty.

·       Provide free speech protections for students, faculty, and staff.

·       Allow an education of free, open, and rigorous intellectual inquiry to seek the truth.

·       Eliminate requirements for diversity, equity, or inclusion courses or training for students, staff or faculty.

·       Require full syllabus transparency.

·       Ban political and ideological litmus tests in all hiring, promotion, and admissions decisions.

·       Install a number of other worthwhile provisions including eliminating faculty labor strikes, establishing post-tenure periodic review, and requiring full disclosure (and eventual elimination) of any donations made by any affiliate of the People’s Republic of China.

Here’s what critics say my bill will do:

·       Reduce free speech.

·       Eliminate academic freedom.

·       Dictate what educators and students teach and learn in the classroom.

·       Install an education gag order.

·       Produce students who can’t think for themselves.

·       Attempt to control every detail of what students in Ohio will learn.

·       Give politicians control of Ohio’s public colleges and universities.

What a steaming pile of Orwellian newspeak. The bill is self-evidently designed to do just the opposite of what critics claim. You don’t “reduce free speech” by providing “free speech protections for students, faculty, and staff.” And you don’t “eliminate academic freedom” by mandating “free, open, and rigorous intellectual inquiry to seek the truth.” Their criticisms don’t even make sense.

Discrimination against conservatives in academia is not some urban legend or mythical Bigfoot. Conservatives are political minorities on woke campuses. They are treated unequally and can face punishing censorship. Just like racial discrimination, this is unfair and irrational. It robs students of their equal rights. A uniformly leftist agenda on campus also replaces education with politically correct indoctrination.

This is not a gripe – it’s a documented fact. But that is lost on our state media. The Plain Dealer calls it only a “perceived bias.” The paper cites anonymous opponents who claim “there have only been a few isolated incidents” of discrimination against conservative students in recent years. The ever-outraged Plain Dealer Editor Chris Quinn even went so far on his daily podcast to suggest I made up the whole issue, saying, “We don’t really have any problem.” His problem is either ignorance or denial.

A pair of recent and exhaustive scholarly studies confirmed the outright hostility toward conservatives on campus. University of London Professor Eric Kauffman conducted eight surveys of college students that found:

·       Academics (professors and researchers) on the left in the U.S. typically outnumber those on the right by a ratio of over 10 to one.

·       In the U.S., a staggering one in three conservative graduate students or academics has been disciplined or threatened for discipline for their views.

·       75 percent of conservative academics in the social sciences and humanities in the U.S. and Britain say their departments are a hostile environment for their beliefs.

·       In the U.S., fully seven in 10 conservative academics in the social sciences or humanities say they self-censor.

·       Between a fifth and a half of academics would mark a right-leaning grant application lower.

·       These results dovetail with studies showing that, between 2000 and 2016, college students grew less tolerant of dissenting views on hot-button issues touching on race, gender and sexuality.

A report from Matthew Goodwin of the Legatum Institute in 2022 found:

·       The Left-wing skew in SSH (social sciences and humanities) academia has gone from a ratio of around 3 to 1 in the U.S. in the mid-1960s to 12 to 1 today.

·       Another study showed most academics in the U.S. and Canada lean Left by a ratio of 14 to 1.

·       65% of Left-wing academics believe that applicants for faculty positions should submit statements demonstrating their commitment to equity and diversity before they can be considered for a job.

·       Several studies find that between 18 and 55% of academics would discriminate against a Right-wing applicant for a job or grant.

·       As conservatives are squeezed out or avoid academia, a monoculture is created.

Perhaps the worst misrepresentation of SB 83 came from Ohio State Professor Pranav Jani in his Dispatch editorial that claimed we seek to ban Chinese and other students from classrooms. That is a damnable lie. It is unsupported by anything I’ve ever said, done, or proposed.

It is a lie meant to stir up fear and hate mongering in order to protect the professor’s privileged and elite status. Academics want to protect their woke fiefdom so they can continue to churn out like-minded and intolerant opponents of intellectual diversity.

That’s a shame, because our Founders treasured diversity of thought so highly they made free speech our very first guaranteed right. It’s time to bring that right back to campus.

Jerry Cirino represents Ohio Senate District 18