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Dive Brief:

  • Ohio’s legislature is mulling a bill that would prohibit employees at the state’s 14 public universities and 23 community colleges from striking.
  • Proposed legislation would overhaul several elements of Ohio public higher education. State institutions also couldn’t mandate diversity training or diversity statements in hiring, which require applicants to outline their commitment to inclusion and equity work.
  • The state’s more than 50 private colleges could be affected, too. To access state capital dollars, private institutions would be forced to sign a document affirming their commitment to free speech and saying they wouldn’t mandate diversity, equity and inclusion courses or training for students, staff or faculty.

Dive Insight:

Ohio’s bill, spearheaded by state Republicans, features educational proposals popular among conservatives nationally. Across the U.S., right-aligned legislators have introduced bills that would restrict faculty tenure, direct what curricula can be taught and block diversity initiatives in public higher ed. 

To that end, Ohio’s legislation would ban colleges from imposing “political or ideological litmus tests” in faculty hiring.

Faculty evaluations would also be drastically altered. The bill would reshape them so that public colleges would have to annually review instructors in areas like teaching, research and service. 

Student evaluations of faculty would count for half of the teaching component in those reviews. And the bill would mandate one question on these student reviews: “Does the faculty member create a classroom atmosphere free of political, racial, gender, and religious bias?”

It also would forbid state colleges from working with or accepting donations from Chinese entities.

The proposed prohibition on strikes, however, particularly rankled labor unions. It’s an issue in the spotlight right now, as such movements gear up on campuses nationwide. Union backers have said academic workers should press for fair working conditions, while their critics have said strikes hurt students. 

A weeks-long strike among graduate students just ended at Temple University, a public institution in Philadelphia, while unions at Rutgers University, another public college in New Jersey, are eyeing a strike ahead of bumpy contract negotiations. 

The Ohio conference of the American Association of University Professors said it is already strategizing to defeat the bill, SB 83, including by working with AAUP leaders across the state.

Ohio’s AAUP described the bill as an attempt to “micromanage” public and private institutions.

A couple of Ohio colleges have a recent history of strikes. Wright State University faculty went on strike for roughly three weeks in 2019, one of the longest in public higher ed history, over healthcare and pay disagreements. And in 2020, faculty at Youngstown State University went on strike over a pay dispute.