Senate Bill Would Create ‘Intellectual Diversity’ Centers at Ohio State and the University of Toledo

Republican sponsor says centers would be antidote to ‘predominantly liberal’ college faculty

On the campus of The Ohio State University, September 2, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio. (Graham Stokes/Ohio Capital Journal)

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An Ohio state Senate bill is trying to create new centers at Ohio State University and the University of Toledo that expand and affirm “intellectual diversity.”

Senate Bill 117 — introduced earlier this month by Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, and Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon — would create the Salmon P. Chase Center for Civics, Culture, and Society at Ohio State and the Institute of American Constitutional Thought and Leadership at UT’s College of Law.

“There is a structural preponderance of one line of thought in our universities today,” Cirino said during a recent Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee meeting. “One of the ways to change the structural preponderance of one line of thought is to set institutes like these up to assist our universities in moving forward with more intellectual diversity.”

He went on to say that university faculty are predominantly liberal.

“This causes a single ideological perspective to dominate academia,” Cirino said. “With the passage of this legislation, we are giving students and their parents’ options within the market to choose an education that is best suited for them.”

Both centers would begin this fall if the bill is able to pass quickly enough, McColley said.

“I’m hoping that our institutions will embrace this as something that is going to help them move the dial just a little bit in favor of true intellectual diversity,” Cirino said.

He said using public funds to create centers at colleges is not unheard of.

“Both Arizona State University and the University of Florida have created similar centers to aide in establishing diverse viewpoints at their respective universities,” Cirino said in his testimony.

SB 117 would give UT $1 million in fiscal year 2024 and $2 million in fiscal year 2025 for the Institute, and Ohio State $5 million in fiscal years 2024 and 2025 for the Center.

University of Toledo

The Institute of American Constitutional Thought and Leadership would be housed in the university’s College of Law and it would expand “the intellectual diversity of the university’s academic community,” according to the bill’s language.

The institute’s mission would be to “create and disseminate knowledge about American constitutional thought, and form future leaders of the legal profession through scholarship, teaching, collaboration, and mentorship,” according to the center’s concept overview.

UT Law Professor Lee Strang first got the idea for the institute in 2019 after visiting the Georgetown Center for the Constitution and Princeton University’s James Madison Program.

“Those places provided the resources in an intentional space for people from a wide variety of perspectives to respectfully and civilly present their views, present their research, present their arguments on whatever the topic was,” Strang said.

He wanted to bring something similar to UT, so he got approval from UT’s president to move forward with the institute and he has been working with McColley on the bill, who graduated from Toledo’s College of Law in 2010.

“It seems to me that in many of these law schools across the state of Ohio and across the country, there is no longer as much intellectual diversity among the faculty, particularly in the area of constitutional law as there once was,” McColley said. “This has a critical role to play in the training of future lawyers, but also it’s a potential recruiting tool.”

He said has has been in talks with UT’s president and the dean of the law school about SB 117.

The institute would bring in more money for the law school — which would allow UT to invite more law scholars, judges and lawyers from across the country to symposiums and classes, said Professor Rebecca Zietlow, the associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Law.

“That spices things up for students,” she said.

The institute would also give the law school more resources to teach additional courses. For example, Strang said this would help give him the resources to teach a class on Ohio constitutional law.

“(The institute is) a mission of academic excellence, it’s a mission of a wide variety of viewpoints debating, discussing these important constitutional issues, role modeling vivid debate and discussions for future leaders in the legal profession in Ohio,” Strang said.

He emphasized SB 117 is separate from Senate Bill 83, a massive higher education bill that has received lots of pushback. Both bills were introduced within a couple months of each other by Cirino and have language that includes “intellectual diversity.”

“One thing I’m trying to avoid is wrapping this up in SB 83,” Strang said.  “I’ve been working on this independent of and without knowledge of SB 83 since 2019,” he said.

Ohio State University

The Salmon P. Chase Center, named after Ohio’s 23rd governor, would be an independent academic unit and would “affirm the value of intellectual diversity in higher education and aspire to enhance the intellectual diversity of the university,” according to the bill’s language.

Cirino said in his testimony that the center “would introduce a new level of debate that would allow students to receive broadened viewpoints.”

Chris Nichols, a history professor at Ohio State, is skeptical.

“There’s a lot of things that already do a lot of what they are wanting to mandate through the Salmon P. Chase Center and it seems like a bit of a mistake to reinvent the wheel when you could actually just work with the existing faculty, staff and student centers and institutes that are pledged to do a lot of this kind of work,” Nichols said.

He wonders what problem the bill is trying to solve.

“It looks like building a very small parallel university within a university,” Nichols said. “This is frankly dropping down a center that duplicates some of what’s already happening and also doesn’t have an organizational structure that makes sense.”

The center would have a director that would report directly to the provost and university president.

Ohio State already has more than 70 centers, and Cirino said he has had general discussions with Ohio State about the center.

“We expect to have further discussions with them regarding the implementation,” he said.

When asked about the bill, Ohio State spokesperson Ben Johnson said “we look forward to discussing the proposal with the sponsors.”

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: info@ohiocapitaljournal.com. Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

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