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November 30, 2023

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Bill 24 to put a hush on higher education speech

A new bill being considered by the Ohio Senate will require college professors to leave their political views out of their classrooms.

Senate Bill 24 will have its initial hearing next Wednesday, though some in the Senate already have voiced their opposition.

“I do not expect Senate Bill 24 to be enacted by the General Assembly this year, and furthermore, I do not intend to support it,” Republican State Sen. Randy Gardner said.

State Sen. Larry Mumper, also a Republican and one of the four co-sponsors of the bill, feels it is gaining support in the legislature.

“The pendulum is swinging,” Mumper said.

The bill is intended to address the complaints that Mumper has been hearing from students, former students and their families about unfair treatment of students by their professors because of differing viewpoints.

“The bill is meant to open up freedom of speech without retribution in grading,” Mumper said.

But others are worried about the wording of the bill and the ambiguity of certain sections.

“The language is so vague. Where does discussion end and indoctrination begin?” asked Andrew Mara, a professor with BGSU’s English department. “I don’t have a problem with the concept of free range of ideas without retribution; I don’t think any academics do.”

Mumper, who was a teacher for 30 years, said the bill is not intended to silence liberal-minded professors.

“We are absolutely not trying to stifle opinions. We want education, not indoctrination,” Mumper said. He added that a section from the bill is taken verbatim from the American Association of University Professors’ academic bill of rights. “We just want them to honor what they said,” Mumper said.

Mara feels that much of what the bill aims to accomplish is redundant. He said there are already mechanisms in place for students to voice displeasure with a professor, such as through channels in individual departments or through student evaluations and teacher observations. “People with real grievances have options,” Mara said.

Gardner said there are more pressing matters for the state to deal with presently.

“There are significant issues facing the legislature right now — tax reform, supporting greater affordability and access to education, and a better job climate,” Gardner said. He also said he would be surprised if the Senate spent any “meaningful time” discussing the bill.

Mumper got into some hot water a few weeks ago when told the Columbus Dispatch that “80 percent or so of them (professors) are Democrats, liberals or socialists or card-carrying Communists.” Mumper’s implication was that some professors’ goals are to teach students liberal values. Mumper said the comments were made mainly in jest but also to spark some controversy and spur discussion.

Mumper may have been correct: He appeared on FOX News Channel to advocate for the bill this past Tuesday night.

Mumper made it clear that he does not want to remove liberal professors and replace them with conservatives.

“We are not trying to create quotas with this bill,” Mumper said.

Much of the legislation was inspired by a meeting Mumper had with David Horowitz, a conservative writer and founder of Students for Academic Freedom. Similar legislation is being considered in Indiana currently, but has been struck down in Colorado and California.

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