May 24, 2023 - Education

OSU backs Statehouse plan for new civics center

Illustration of a donkey hoof and elephant trunk holding up a graduation cap.

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Ohio State University trustees support creating a new civics education center on campus, a plan pitched by Republican lawmakers as a counterweight to what they say is a left-leaning academic setting.

Why it matters: The recent endorsement could be an olive branch to the GOP-controlled Statehouse, which is also pushing for a broader higher education overhaul that OSU and other universities oppose.

State of play: Sens. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) and Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) want the proposed center to teach students the "ideas, traditions, and texts" that have shaped American history.

  • It would be named for Salmon P. Chase, a famed 19th century lawyer, politician and abolitionist.

What they're saying: "... it is no secret that university faculty are predominantly liberal. This causes a single ideological perspective to dominate academia," Cirino and McColley wrote in support of Senate Bill 117.

  • The center is intended to "move the dial just a little bit in favor of true intellectual diversity," Cirino said.

The big picture: Cirino also sponsored Senate Bill 83 — known as the Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act — which would outlaw mandated diversity training and faculty strikes, and prohibit universities from commenting on public policy issues such as abortion rights.

  • Labor unions and education groups have criticized the bill, while supporters say it is necessary to ward off ideological discrimination against conservatives.
  • The Senate approved the bill, and a House committee is scheduled to discuss it this morning.

Between the lines: As a publicly funded university, OSU is in a difficult position.

  • The school opposes SB 83, saying it's unnecessary state overreach that limits the very free speech lawmakers say they're seeking to protect.
  • But trustees say they "look forward to working with" lawmakers on the civics center idea, claiming it would "broaden even further intellectual diversity on our campuses."
  • "Trustees are unified in their opposition to Senate Bill 83. I'll let their words speak for themselves," an OSU spokesman tells Axios, noting "they welcome a fulsome dialogue with the legislature."

What's next: If Cirino and McColley's bill becomes law, it would allocate $10 million over the next two fiscal years to pay for a center director, staff and at least 15 tenure-track faculty positions.

  • Future operating costs would be somewhat offset by the added tuition revenue of enrolled students, statehouse analysts predict.

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