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Higher education bill introduced in Ohio Senate would prohibit employees from going on strike

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Posted at 7:03 PM, Mar 20, 2023

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Some Ohio lawmakers are proposing an overhaul of the state's higher education system that would include prohibiting employees from going on strike.

"This is also a bit of a course correction," said state Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland), who sponsored Senate Bill 83. "I think some of our institutions of higher education have gone off on a little bit of a tangent here and begun to focus on what I would call social engineering, as opposed to solid education of our students."

If passed, the bill would have wide-ranging effects on college campuses throughout the state. Among other things, it aims to cut bias from the classroom at public universities in Ohio. The legislation said student evaluations of teachers will include the question, "Does the faculty member create a classroom atmosphere free of political, racial, gender and religious bias?"

"This is about not taking particular sides politically, or socially or even culturally, it's about exposing our students to varieties of thoughts on issues," Cirino said.

Opponents fear it will have the opposite effect.

"My biggest concern is that it is legislating and limiting what can be taught in college classrooms and that hurts our educational mission," said Theresa Kulbaga, a professor at Miami University.

Kulbaga believes it will make it more difficult to attract students and educators.

"I believe that education is one of the most important things that we can do for our economy in Ohio," she said. "Anything that hurts that mission hurts Ohio's economy."

The bill would also prevent public employees at institutes of higher education from going on strike.

"I think it's an attempt to sort of chip away at workers' and faculty members’ ability to have a say in our working conditions," Kulbaga said.

Cirino told WCPO he’s not against unions, but said he does not believe students should be caught in the middle of a negotiation.

"Why should the threat of or actual striking of instruction provided to students be on the table for negotiation?" he said. "Think about it. Students pay for their tuition upfront."

Dr. David Niven, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati, said it's rare one bill covers so much.

"One of the things that's really striking, as we've seen this debate play out in other states, it's generally played out one piece at a time," said Niven. "This is everything in one bill."

The first hearing on the bill is set for Wednesday. Cirino said the hearing will include sponsor testimony and additional proponent and opponent testimony will follow in the coming weeks.

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