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Senate Bill 24 Threatens Speech at Ohio Universities
by jesse, cle-imc newswire Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Senate Bill 24 Threatens Free Speech at Colleges Throughout Ohio

Proposed Ohio Senate Bill 24 threatens to prohibit professors of Ohio colleges from discussing certain "controversial" issues in class. Introduced by Ohio Senator Larry Mumper, the bill also would also prevent faculty or administrative organizations from taking a position on any issue from which there is "substantial disagreement". While Senator Mumper claims the proposed law, which he has ironically dubbed the "Academic Bill of Rights", is intended to diversify debate in classrooms, the vague language of the bill does not specify what is considered "controversial" or "substantial disagreement". Although claiming the bill is politically neutral, many critics believe the underlying intent is to target professors who discuss liberal or radical beliefs, citing Senator Mumper's statements to the Columbus Dispatch (1/27/05) that too many professors are "anti-american", claiming "80 percent of them are Democrats, liberals, socialists or card-carrying communists."

Inspired by a meeting between Mumper and conservative writer David Horowitz, the bill also requires professors who discuss their views to also include "views other than their own", but does not specify what alternative views are considered legitimate. Faculty and students are concerned the bill will be enforced in a manner requiring teachers to discuss right-wing views, not simply alternative ones.

Faculty and administrative organizations would no longer be free to take positions on any issue for which there exists "substantial disagreement". Requiring "neutrality", it may be used to prevent faculty and administrative organizations from passing resolutions concerning any government policy, including the war in Iraq, health care, social security, or school funding.

The vague language of the bill promises long, painstaking courtroom battles in Ohio's already clogged judicial system since courts will have to define its less than concrete terms. Even if professors return victorious, the financial and professional damage may be irreversable.

As it is currently written, the bill would apply to both private and public schools, which has received criticism from many of its otherwise conservative supporters since it would also require religiously-affiliated schools to meet the "alternative views" standard. It seems forced diversity isn't so popular when the school is already right-wing.

Several Ohio universities have already passed resolutions against Senate Bill 24. Youngstown State's faculty senate drew up a resolution, saying it "would impose serious and unnecessary restrictions on the methods of teaching, research and grading used by college and university faculty." The University of Toledo student senate also passed a resolution on February 15, by a 30-1 margin, deeming Senate Bill 24 "a bill of stautory requirements, with no rational bearing, which will have an adverse impact on ... the colleges and universities in the state of Ohio." Samuel Nelson, assistant professor of political science, spoke against S.B. 24 at the senate meeting. "If I have to think about what the state legislature thinks of my syllabus ... I would self censor," he said, adding that such a bill would have a "chilling effect" on what professors could do in classes.

The Ohio University Faculty Senate resolution against Mumper's bill passed unanimously, while other resolutions have been forged by Ohio college governments, including the Graduate Student Senate at Bowling Green, University of Akron Faculty Senate, Provost of Ohio State University, and Faculty Senate at Cleveland State University.

[Ohio ACLU Resources | Ohio American Association of University Professors Responses: 1 2]

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SB 24 Threatens Speech John B. Palmer Friday, Feb. 25, 2005 at 8:27 AM
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