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Bill would create centers on diversity of thought at Ohio State, Toledo

KEITH ARNOLD
Special to the Legal News

Published: May 30, 2023

A pair of Republican lawmakers want to establish independent centers of study and research at two public universities in an effort to promote diversity of thought among students and faculty.
Sens. Jerry Cirino and Robert McColley, respectively of Kirtland and Napoleon, are sponsoring Senate Bill 117, which would allow The Ohio State University to create the Salmon P. Chase Center for Civics, Culture and Society and the University of Toledo to establish the Institute of American Constitutional Thought and Leadership at the law school there.
“(The) Salmon P. Chase Center for Civics, Culture and Society would introduce a new level of debate that would allow students to receive broadened viewpoints,” the senators told members of the Workforce and Higher Education Committee. “Although enrollment has nearly tripled since the 1970s, a 2018 survey done by the Citizens and Scholars showed that only 23 percent of Ohio adults were able to receive a passing grade on a multiple-choice test consisting of items from the U.S. Citizenship test. Of the 23 percent, only 4 percent received an A in comparison to the 59 percent that had received an F.”
The sponsors of the bill said they believe the new center would allow students to pursue an education full of rigorous civic debate.
The center would be required to conduct teaching and research “in the historical ideas, traditions and texts that have shaped the American constitutional order and society,” according to analysis of SB 117.
The bill would grant the center authority to establish its own bylaws but stipulates that the center abide by the following:
• Educate students by means of free, open and rigorous intellectual inquiry to seek the truth;
• Affirm its duty to equip students with the skills, habits and dispositions of mind they need to reach their own informed conclusions on matters of social and political importance;
• Affirm the value of intellectual diversity in higher education and aspire to enhance the intellectual diversity of the university;
• Affirm a commitment to create a community dedicated to an ethic of civil and free inquiry, which respects the intellectual freedom of each member, supports individual capacities for growth and welcomes the differences of opinion that must naturally exist in a public university community.
Instructional requirements of the center include teaching about the books and major debates which form the intellectual foundation of free societies, especially those of the United States; the principles, ideals and institutions of the American constitutional order; and the foundations of responsible leadership and informed citizenship.
SB 117 would further require the center to focus on offering university-wide programming related to the values of free speech and civil discourse, as well as expanding the intellectual diversity of the university’s academic community, analysis provided.
The bill also would grant the center authority to offer courses and develop certificate, minor and major undergraduate programs and graduate programs.
Ohio State’s board of trustees would retain the authority to change the name of the center in accordance with the philanthropic naming policies and practices of the university, language of the bill provided.
The center proposed for the University of Toledo College of Law––the Institute of American Constitutional Thought and Leadership––was devised to give future lawyers an opportunity to learn about the foundation upon which the United States of America was built, the lawmakers said.
“By teaching using the thoughts and writings of not only America’s founders, including Adams, Hamilton and Jefferson, but also the scholars who shaped the American system, such as Plato, Aquinas and Locke, our future lawyers will have access to a variety of viewpoints,” they said in sponsor testimony. “These diverse teachings will encourage individuals in the legal field to encounter fundamental questions concerning justice and the rule of law with an emphasis on intellectual freedom, rigorous debate and mutual respect.”
SB 117 would require funding from the General Revenue Fund in the amounts of $6 million in 2024 and $7 million in 2025.
“Using public funds for the creation of both of these centers is not an anomaly; both Arizona State University and the University of Florida have created similar centers to aide in establishing diverse viewpoints at their respective universities,” the lawmakers said. “As scholars have stated, it is no secret that university faculty are predominantly liberal. This causes a single ideological perspective to dominate academia. 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.”
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