Ohio college students should thank Jerry Cirino. The Republican state senator has written a bill designed to spare those students instruction in the type of sordid thinking that sees all of life in terms of group power dynamics, cancels opposing views, preaches color consciousness, and discourages merit.
In other words, Cirino wants to eliminate diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, requirements from Ohio’s public university system.
One of the nation’s largest, with 14 four-year research universities, 24 regional campuses, 23 community colleges, and 13 graduate schools, Ohio’s higher education system would be better off without DEI.
Some Ohioans, of course, don’t see it Cirino’s way. That’s to be expected, but what’s hard to grasp is the degree of demagoguery that has met his bill.
What this criticism shows, once again, is the instability produced by the type of regime politics America is gripped by at the moment. We are arguing not over fine policy points, but what type of regime we will have.
To describe the two camps briefly, those on the Left claim that America is systemically racist, in the sense that the American system itself—everything we do—oppresses members of the “marginalized” categories. From this leftist perspective, DEI training is needed to deprogram the American mind and reset it with a greater awareness of racial matters.
On the other side, people say no: Although there certainly are racists (just as there are murderers and rapists), the system itself is not racist. America is also far from being an oppressive state. Although the government can and should do nothing about “thought crimes” or freedom of association, state and federal civil rights laws adequately protect against true discrimination.
The conservatives in this latter camp say that diversity, equity, and inclusion practices themselves often violate the spirit and letter of statutes that proscribe race-conscious decisions by the government and the private sector. They also affirm that DEI in practice at public colleges unconstitutionally compels speech, enforcing the view of America as being racist and oppressive.
Cirino’s anti-DEI bill is an attempt to correct these wrongs, among others. This comprehensive legislation also addresses many aspects of higher education in Ohio that are in need of reform, from the terms of trustees to making syllabuses digitally searchable.
But the key part of the bill would prohibit “any mandatory programs or training courses regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion.” This section deals mostly with banning compelled speech or requiring particular ideas as a condition of admission, hiring, or obtaining a degree.
One section, for example, would order the boards of trustees of colleges and universities in the Ohio system to require their institutions to “affirm and declare that the institution will not encourage, discourage, require, or forbid students, faculty, or administrators to endorse, assent to, or publicly express a given ideology, political stance, or view of a social policy, nor will the institution require students to do any of those things to obtain an undergraduate or post-graduate degree.”
Cirino’s bill, which has many other sponsors, passed the state Senate, headed to the state House, and may appear on the desk of Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, for his signature.
The legislation also supports viewpoint diversity, attempting to ensure that universities “will seek out invited speakers who have diverse ideological or political views.”
It also would eliminate the practice of canceling conservative speech. It would require that an institution of higher learning “declare that its duty is to ensure that, within or outside the classroom, the institution shall not require, favor, disfavor, or prohibit speech or lawful assembly.”
The bill moreover rightly would bar the Chinese Communist Party, China’s ruling organ, from influencing America’s young minds. It says that “no state institution of higher education shall accept gifts, donations, or contributions from the People’s Republic of China or any organization the institution reasonably suspects is acting on behalf of the People’s Republic of China.”
These are commonsense approaches, but they are being demagogued by a leftist professoriate that runs the university system as its fiefdom.
One ethnic studies professor, Timothy Messer-Kruse, seized on the bill’s single use of the term “divergent” in a definition—“‘Intellectual diversity’ means multiple, divergent, and varied perspectives”—to make outlandish claims.
The bill, writes Messer-Kruse, would require him “to teach the ‘divergent’ theory of racial construction, which is that race is a biological, fixed, natural attribute of humankind.”
The professor continued: “It requires me to teach the ‘divergent’ theory of civil rights, which is that the Constitution allows for the legal separation of races and that this is a justifiable form of equality. It requires me to teach that the South seceded because it wished to defend states rights against the unlawful aggression of the Lincoln administration.”
But none of this is true. These lines are meant to scare good people who are too busy to read the bill. In fact, the legislation would entrust to professors “the exercise of professional judgment about how to accomplish intellectual diversity within an academic discipline.”
The teachers unions are up in arms, too, demagoguing the bill and crying about the limitations on China’s influence.
Fighting DEI will not be politically easy, as Cirino is finding out. But for the more than half a million students attending Ohio’s institutions of higher education, it’s worth it.
This piece originally appeared in Restoring America by the Washington Examiner