CSU's Rhodes Tower pictured with a bright blue sky and blossoming trees.
Credit: Taylor Lewis-Kerslake
Cleveland State University's Faculty Senate has resolved to condemn SB83 as professors speak out against the legislation.

CSU Faculty Senate, the AAUP, student government condemn SB83

Ohio Senate Bill 83 threatens free speech on campus, undermining public universities and professors' ability to do their job.
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Ohio Senate Bill 83 (SB83), if adopted without major revision, will negatively impact higher education and the way students learn at all public universities and community colleges in the state. That's the message from Cleveland State University's professors, their union, and the student government.

SB83, formally the “Higher Education Enhancement Act,” would change many practices within Ohio’s community colleges and public universities, including at CSU. Among other curbs, professors would be prohibited from going on strike as well as banned from participating in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training.

Professors and students condemn SB83

Cleveland State’s Faculty Senate held a special meeting April 12 to discuss SB83 and voted in support of a joint resolution with the CSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to condemn the bill.

Senate President Anup Kumar, Ph.D., told faculty that the urgency of the issue had prompted the extraordinary meeting.

“We were expecting that we'll come back and consider this resolution on April 26,” Kumar said, but then "things started moving very fast... So if we want to do a resolution, we should do it as soon as possible.”

During the previous Faculty Senate meeting on March 29, a committee made up of Faculty Senate and AAUP members was tasked with creating the resolution. The Senate urged the committee to fast-track the process due to the speed at which the Ohio legislature is moving on the bill and the need for the voices of the people who do the work teaching and researching to be heard on the issue.

The joint resolution presented to the Faculty Senate on April 12 summed up the joint opposition of the faculty and AAUP to the bill, urging the Ohio General Assembly to reject SB83, because its enactment would:

A) result in the University’s having to violate the accreditation standards of various Colleges
and educational programs within the University, which would harm both current and future
students and be detrimental to Ohio’s economic future;
B) limit freedom of speech, academic freedom, and the ability of students to be exposed to and
think about ideas; and
C) interfere with independent management of the University by its Board of Trustees.

After discussing the resolution, the Faculty Senate unanimously endorsed the resolution.

CSU’s Student Government Association (SGA) on April 24 voted in the SGA senate to pass a similar resolution in opposition to SB83. 

The student government's resolution was written by the SGA public policy committee and was adopted by a majority vote. The full resolution can be seen on the SGA's Instagram.

Professors share their thoughts on SB83, free speech advocacy group endorses CSU

Many professors at Cleveland State are speaking out against the bill, especially after its discussion during CSU’s senate meeting in March.

“As it stands, this piece of legislation is micromanaging institutions that are meeting and exceeding their standards of higher education,” Jeffery Bolt, CSU senior college lecturer, said. 

Bolt also said that SB83 is an “unnecessary piece of legislation” and a solution to a nonexistent problem. He added that institutions which are affected by this bill continue to meet the standards of higher education, and sometimes even exceed them.

The rights advocacy group, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) rates Cleveland State as green. FIRE assesses universities on their ability to protect students’ individual rights, including freedom of speech.

“CSU is home to a robust free speech environment and our university maintains a ‘green light’ rating from the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression in Education,” John Plecnik, CSU associate professor of law and Faculty Senate member, said. “When faculty and students are looking over their collective shoulders to ensure they are not accidentally discussing a controversial belief or policy on behalf of the university, free speech will be effectively dead on campus.”

Its critics say SB83 would undermine the marketplace of ideas, limiting students' exposure to a full debate of what it means to be a good citizen in a democracy. The bill would condemn professors to silence in the marketplace, depriving students of their perspectives on political matters, which begs the question of what the bill's author and supporters think teachers are for.

“I think it is ironic that Ohio’s political conservatives, who tend to favor this bill and favor individual freedom, are doing something that limits professors’ and students’ freedoms,” Dr. Richard Perloff, a political science and communication professor at CSU, said. “They are supporting government control, which is supposed to be anathema to conservatives.”

Perloff also said that this bill is “terrible” and antithetical to what universities, students and faculty stand for. This is reflective of SB83’s ban on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training for students and staff. 

Plecnik summed up the mood of the CSU Faculty Senate, AAUP and student government with a blunt assessment of the likely effect of the legislation.

“Ohio Senate Bill 83 is a dumpster fire that threatens to incinerate free speech at Cleveland State University and beyond,” Plecnik said. “That is why I was proud to join the Faculty Senate in a unanimous vote to condemn the speech code that is ironically named the Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act.”