Anti-Academic Freedom Bills Threaten Faculty, Higher Education

Overview
There has been a rash of anti-academic freedom legislation cropping up in states across the country, and Ohio is no exception. The main purpose of these bills is to prohibit the teaching of "critical race theory" in primary and secondary education, but the bills tend to go much farther, and higher education has been a target, too.

Critical race theory (CRT) is an academic concept that has existed for more than 40 years. The core idea is that racism is a systemic social construct. Racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also is embedded in laws and policies.

Critics of CRT contend that it is divisive, teaches hatred for America, and indoctrinates students. Proponents believe that teaching about deep-rooted racial inequities is the only way to confront and remedy these systemic problems.

National AAUP President Irene Mulvey released a statement with allied organizations condemning efforts around the country that seek to restrict teaching about oppression, race, and gender. "Decisions about curriculum and teaching materials belong in the hands of educators--not politicians," Mulvey stated.

Clearly, this type of legislation could impact whole disciplines in higher education and stifle the kinds of discussions that faculty have everyday with their students, which help students learn critical thinking, communications skills, and make them thoughtful, well-rounded citizens.

Ohio Legislation
In June, Ohio House Bills 322 and 327 have been introduced, which would restrict the teaching of certain concepts and topics.

HB 322 primarily targets public schools and state agencies, but the Ohio Department of Higher Education would be included under the definition of state agency.

This bill prohibits public entities from requiring discussion of current events and prohibits the teaching of a list of topics dealing with race, sex, slavery, and bias. It also targets history and civics courses, discouraging the discussion of current events, controversial issues, or activities that involve social or policy advocacy.

Moreover, the legislation specifies that teachers cannot be required to teach anything that goes against their "sincerely held religious or philosophical convictions."

HB 327 is slightly different and more punitive than HB 322. It also specifically targets institutions of higher education. The bill prohibits public schools, state agencies, colleges, and universities from offering teaching, instruction, or training on "divisive concepts" or accepting private funding to promote such concepts. Violations of the bill would result in the withholding of funding to school districts or State Share of Instruction to colleges and universities.

The bill has a list of concepts related to race, sex, nationality, color, and ethnicity that it defines as divisive and therefore prohibited. It does say that divisive or controversial concepts can be taught if done so objectively and impartially, but who gets to determine what is objective and impartial is unclear.

HB 327 already had a substitute bill introduced last week. The substitute bill contains many changes that specifically target higher education.

For instance, the substitute bill would require institutions to update policies on faculty tenure to reflect the bill's principles and consider as a negative factor in employment and tenure decisions any confirmed reports that a faculty member knowingly or recklessly violates the bill's provisions.

The legislation also would prohibit institutions of higher education from including what it defines as divisive concepts in new student or freshmen orientation teaching, instruction, or training.

Take Action!
Through this Action Network page you can easily e-mail your State Representative and the Representatives on the State and Local Government Committee to express opposition to the legislation.

Here are several quick links so that you can read directly about the bills: