A massive higher education bill that would prohibit university staff and employees from striking was introduced last week and is already drawing harsh criticism from labor unions.
State Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, introduced Senate Bill 83, which would have wide-ranging effects on colleges and universities around the state.
“I would describe the bill as a radical set of solutions in search of problems,” said David Jackson, president of Bowling Green State University’s Faculty Association, a chapter of American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the American Federation of Teachers.
“A bill proposing a mindless, one-size-fits-all set of regulations for the complex and different kinds of universities that the state of Ohio has is, in our view, a completely misguided approach to higher education policy,” he said.
If passed, the bill would prohibit “bias” in classrooms, programs with Chinese schools, mandatory diversity training, labor strikes and boycotts or disinvestments.
The bill would require American history courses, public syllabuses and teacher information be put online; tenure evaluations based on if the educator showed bias or taught with bias and rewrite mission statements to include that educators teach so students can reach their “own conclusions.”
“When you look at the bill as a whole, it’s an absolute administrative nightmare for colleges and universities to implement everything that’s in this legislation,” said Sara Kilpatrick, the executive director of the Ohio chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
“It’s going to require more administrators and it’s going to require a lot more paperwork,” she said. “And those kinds of things all take away from educating students.”
Piet van Lier, a research consultant focused on justice reform and education at Policy Matters Ohio, said SB 83 would undermine public education.
“What’s at stake is honest education,” Lier said. “It’s essentially an educational gag order that’s going to have a chilling effect.”
Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor Randy Gardner said in a statement he looks forward to working with Cirino “as we together strive to strengthen education and workforce development in our state.”
Taking away faculty member’s ability to strike limits the power unions can bring to the bargaining table, labor unions said.
“The ability to strike is central to collective bargaining,” Kilpatrick said. “If faculty do not have the ability to strike, then it’s not collective bargaining. It’s collective begging because that’s the only leverage that faculty have to get management to come to the table and actually bargain.”
SB 83 would give administration the ability to bring only one offer to the bargaining table.
“They don’t have to negotiate anymore because they don’t have to be worried that the faculty are going to strike,” Kilpatrick said.
Faculty at Wright State University went on strike for almost three weeks in January 2019 over pay disputes and health care.
“If we had not had the ability to strike in 2019 … management could have given us any contract they wanted, basically,” said Robert Rubin, president of AAUP’s Wright State University chapter. He was a member of the union during the 2019 strike.
“The problem with this bill is that once you erase the right to strike and shift the balance of power so much in favor of management,” he said.
He doesn’t see anything in the bill that would actually help college students.
“There’s a lot of bad stuff in this bill,” he said.
More recently, Youngstown State University workers went on strike for a few days in 2020 over pay disputes.
The bill, if it were to pass, would alter the relationship between administration and faculty unions Jackson said “by creating an incentive for the small number of misguided administrators who would want to use the power that this would grant them to sort of push over the faculty union.”
Miami University is in the process of forming a collective bargaining unit, known as the Faculty Alliance of Miami (FAM) with 802 members. Eligible faculty will vote to unionize later in the spring, likely in April or May, said Cathy Wagner, a Miami English professor and organizer who calls SB 83 a contradictory bill.
“I will be really surprised if the bill can really pass in this form, once legislators understand all the problems with it,” she said.
Possible ripple effects
Labor unions also worry about possible consequences of the bill if it were to pass — primarily that this would deter educators and researchers from applying to work at Ohio universities.
“If this level of micromanagement, and that’s exactly what it is, of the state institutions happens, there’s a significant fear that we will have a difficult time attracting high-quality faculty to the universities and keeping them at the high quality that they’ve been at for so long now,” Jackson said.
This could also cause professors who are currently working in Ohio universities to leave.
“We’re going to see excellent researchers fleeing,” Wagner said.
All of this could lead to students to not look to Ohio when pursuing higher education.
“This certainly could lead to brain drain,” Rubin said. “Students are going to go where they believe they can get the best education for their money. And I could foresee some students deciding that maybe Ohio isn’t the right place.”
All of this causes Kilpatrick to worry that, in the future, companies and businesses won’t want to come to Ohio if the state’s higher education system isn’t that strong.
This comes a little over a year after Silicon Valley semiconductor maker Intel picked Licking County to build a new microchip factory.
“It’s everything from being an administrative nightmare for institutions to potentially impacting workforce development in Ohio,” Kilpatrick said.This article was originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal and is republished here with permission.
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