The controversy around Ohio Senate Bill 83 and how it affects higher education


Courtesy of Clovis Westlund

On April 19, hundreds of Ohio citizens gathered at a hearing that lasted over seven hours to dispute Senate Bill 83.

Paola Van Der Linden Costello, Staff Writer

Ohio’s 135th general assembly has recently introduced Senate Bill 83, a piece of legislation that proposes cutting state funds to private institutions of higher education unless they meet their ideological demands. It is meant to regulate intellectual content that can be delivered at these institutions both in and outside the classroom. If passed, this bill would be “Bad for students. Bad for higher education. Bad for Ohio,” as Honesty For Ohio puts it. 

The bill bans the requirement of diversity, equity and inclusion courses or training for all students, staff or faculty, prohibits the use of language around diversity in hiring initiatives or recruitment for students and restricts conversation on “climate change, electoral politics, foreign policy, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, immigration policy, marriage, or abortion” by deeming these “controversial beliefs or policy.” It further mandates institutions to avoid endorsing, commenting, or taking action on any of these “controversies.” This would severely limit efforts by universities to address social concerns such as climate change effects, racial inequality and reproductive rights. SB 83 also bans programs, policies, practices and student groups based on race, sexuality or gender identity. It serves to ban employee strikes and resistance as well. 

SB 83 not only constraints both the institution and the individuals that are part of it but also serves to mandate course curriculum. The bill specifically states that students graduating after the spring of 2027 will be required to take a U.S. history or government course with six mandated readings—among them the entire U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence—with a mandated final on the material. Additionally, it requires institutions to commit to “intellectual diversity,” which in practice serves to push for colorblind hiring of the institution’s students, faculty and staff. It also requires posting of all course syllabi, instructor bios and lecture summaries so they can be judged for potential liberal bias. Additionally, it requires that private higher education institutions follow state-defined mission statements and undergo policy change, performance evaluations and reporting. The bill also significantly targets tenure by allowing termination if there is a failure to meet the new guidelines.

This bill allows for state control over material taught at these institutions and works to ban and minimize diversity on campus. It is a threat to students’ learning experiences, leaving them heavily unprepared for a workforce which now prioritizes diversity and equity as well as critical thinking. 

The bill’s introduction has left many outraged college students and professors worried about what its enactment would mean for the future of their institutions and their role in it. Students from all around Ohio attending higher education institutions voiced their dissent regarding the bill to Senator Jerry Cirino, the primary sponsor for SB 83 on April 19 from 4-11:30 p.m. during a public hearing. There were over 500 testimonies, with 116 coming from students across 12 Ohio universities. 

This bill currently resides in the Senate Committee and has been introduced to the House of Representatives. These next few months will be crucial as the Senate deliberates over whether or not the bill will be sent on to the governor. To read the bill itself, visit the Ohio State Legislature’s website, and for more information on advocacy action, visit Honesty for Ohio Education’s website.