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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine says he would sign a higher education overhaul if further revisions are made

Megan Henry, Ohio Capital Journal,

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently said he would potentially sign a bill that would dramatically change Ohio college and university campuses — if the bill continues to undergo further revisions.

But he did not elaborate when the Ohio Capital Journal asked him what changes he would like to see made to Senate Bill 83 in order for him to sign it.

“I think (Senate Bill 83) will continue to evolve and will then be a bill that I would be comfortable signing,” DeWine said last week while talking to reporters after speaking during the Ohio Department of Higher Education’s Trustees Conference. “I would anticipate signing a bill. But as in all things, I can’t make a final decision until I see the language and the language in this bill, of course, continues to change.”

State Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, introduced SB 83 last year and it has already gone through nearly a dozen revisions. DeWine said Cirino has had many conversations with university presidents and board of trustee members about SB 83 bill.

“I’ll wait till I see the bill,” DeWine said. “But I think there’s room for a bill as he envisions it because he’s had a lot of input.”

SB 83 has not seen any movement in the legislature since it passed out of the House Higher Education Committee shortly before Christmas. The bill is not on the agenda for Wednesday’s House session and there is only one more House session on June 26 before the legislature goes on summer break.

Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, said there have been discussions among lawmakers about SB 83.

“There’s talk of a couple of changes on the bill,” he said. “We’re still discussing that. We’ve got a lot of other bills that we’re working on, obviously, this week and then here in a couple of weeks, so we’ll continue those discussions.”

“I think the question is and always has been — are there enough votes available?” said Ohio House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington.

Cirino’s office did not respond to questions sent by the Capital Journal.

What is in Senate Bill 83?

The 66-page bill prohibits mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training unless it is required to comply with state and federal law, professional licensure requirements or get accreditation or grants.

A controversial anti-striking provision was removed from SB 83, but now has a new retrenchment provision that would block unions from negotiating on tenure.

If the bill were to become law, universities could fire tenured professors for a broad list of reasons including reduction in student population. Faculty with between 30-35 years of tenure would be protected.

SB 83 defines controversial beliefs or policy as “any belief or policy that is the subject of political controversy, including issues such as climate policies, electoral politics, foreign policy, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, immigration policy, marriage, or abortion.”

The bill would allow students to “reach their own conclusions about all controversial beliefs or policies and shall not seek to indoctrinate any social, political, or religious point of view.”

DeWine’s higher education remarks

DeWine touched on various higher education topics during his speech at the trustees conference and acknowledged the challenges facing colleges and universities.

“We live in a time when families are deeply concerned about the debt that their students are incurring,” he said. “A lot of people are questioning the need, or the value of higher education, whether it’s a two year or four year institution.”

He also talked about the science of reading initiatives he signed into law last summer as part of the state budget.

The science of reading is based on decades of research that shows how the human brain learns to read and incorporates phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Starting this fall, every public school in Ohio will be using the science of reading and this legislation also affects teacher preparation programs.

Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor Mike Duffey is required to create an audit process that shows how every educator training program aligns with teaching the science of reading instruction.

“Universities have to switch over,” DeWine said. “Because if you don’t, no school in the state of Ohio in a few years is going to take your graduates because they don’t want to retrain them. They don’t want to teach them again how to do it.”

Teachers across the state are receiving professional development in the science of reading.

While talking to reporters, DeWine said Ohio colleges and universities handled the campus protests over the Israel-Hamas war at the end of spring semester well.

“I think the key is that the university is supposed to be a place where you can protest, it should be a place of great discussion, different points of view, and that certainly should be respected,” DeWine said. “On the other hand, universities have a right to say no encampment, as long as that rule is enforced against everybody.”

Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, Oberlin College, Ohio University, Miami University, Kent State University and Denison University all had campus protests in April and May. About 40 people were arrested at Ohio State during various protests.

“Our role was to make the Ohio State Highway Patrol available to backup the local police to backup the campus security or campus police,” DeWine said.

He said he expects to see more campus protests this fall.

“We should not fear those,” DeWine said. “That’s part of what we do in this country.”

Megan Henry is a reporter for the Ohio Capital Journal and has spent the past five years reporting in Ohio on various topics including education, healthcare, business and crime. She previously worked at The Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network. Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on X.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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