- An Ohio lawmaker scrapped a proposed ban on faculty strikes from his wide-ranging higher education bill, with the hope that the change will help garner more support for the legislation in the Legislature's House.
- The proposed legislation, called SB 83, touches on myriad aspects of the state’s public higher education. Republican state Sen. Jerry Cirino, who authored the bill, agreed to remove the anti-strike provision at the request of House lawmakers, he said during a Wednesday meeting of the House’s higher education committee.
- The expansive state higher education bill would still largely ban mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training efforts at public institutions. It would also bar them from taking positions on “controversial” topics and establish post-tenure reviews, though it now allows for exemptions and appeals to these rules.
Since Cirino introduced the bill in March, higher ed experts and free speech advocates have raised concerns that it would chill free speech on campuses and inhibit Ohio colleges’ ability to compete for students and employees.
In May, Ohio's Senate passed SB 83 in a 21-10 vote. But Ohio labor leaders expressed doubt that the bill would pass the House as it was written, citing the potential erosion of state employees' collective bargaining rights.
Both chambers of the Legislature have a Republican supermajority. If lawmakers vote down party lines, the bill would easily make it to Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk.
The original version of the bill would have prohibited all public college employees from striking. In September, Cirino consulted with lawmakers about revising the language to only include faculty.
Now, faculty will not be included at all in an effort to get the bill passed, he said Wednesday.
"I stand firmly behind the idea that students' instruction should not be put in jeopardy because of labor negotiations," he said during the committee meeting. He said his stance was not anti-labor but a means of protecting students.
The revised bill also adds exemptions to a ban preventing colleges from taking a stance on "any controversial belief or policy, specified concept, or specified ideology."
The updated language allows institutions to take stances when the ban would affect colleges’ "funding or mission of discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge." Cirino gave lobbying the state for funding as an example.
The revised SB 83 still mandates post-tenure reviews. But it would now require each college to create an appeals process for reviews that result in a recommendation for administrative action, such as termination.
And it would reduce the tenure of university board trustees from nine years to six years. The bill had originally proposed reducing it to four years.
Cirino said the changes came after meeting with university leaders and lawmakers. While he was hesitant about them, he was willing to compromise to get the legislation passed, he said.
SB 83 is meant to give colleges the tools to cut costs and adapt to changing student demographics, he told fellow legislators. Cirino cited West Virginia University as an example of an institution making big moves in the face of financial distress.
In September, the public flagship in neighboring West Virginia approved plans to cut 28 degrees and lay off 140 faculty members as a means of addressing a $45 million deficit. Students, faculty and alumni decried the move.