Public Education Matters

Introduced in the Ohio statehouse on March 14, 2023, Senate Bill 83 is sweeping legislation that hands down one-size-fits-all mandates to Ohio's colleges and universities that would do real, irreversible damage to the institutions that we rely on to train Ohioans to be productive members of our workforce, if it were passed. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirkland), named SB 83 the Higher Education Enhancement Act, but calling it the Higher Education Destruction Act is a more accurate name. The presidents of YSU-OEA and the Columbus State Education Association join this episode to help explain why SB 83 must be stopped.

LEARN MORE AND TAKE ACTION | Click here to see a summary of all of the provisions of Senate Bill 83 and then click here to send a message to members of the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee asking them to oppose the bill.  

Featured Education Matters guests: 
  • Mark Vopat, YSU-OEA President
    • Dr. Mark Vopat is Professor of Philosophy and the Co-Director of the Dr. James Dale Ethics Center at Youngstown State University. Dr. Vopat received his doctorate from the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada. His area of specialization is children’s rights. In addition to his work in children’s rights, Dr. Vopat has written and presented papers in a variety of areas of applied ethics including: business ethics, children’s rights, engineering ethics, professional ethics, the ethics of boycotting, moral sensitivity, and the intersection of libertarianism and Christianity. 
  • Adam Keller, Columbus State Education Association President
    • A Full Professor in the Department of Biological and Physical Sciences at Columbus State Community College, Dr. Adam Keller is an organic chemist, with a focus on undergraduate education. He is currently the PI on an NSF-funded project to increase the recruitment, retention and success of underrepresented groups in STEM disciplines.

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About us:
  • The Ohio Education Association represents about 120,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals who work in Ohio’s schools, colleges, and universities to help improve public education and the lives of Ohio’s children. OEA members provide professional services to benefit students, schools, and the public in virtually every position needed to run Ohio’s schools.
  • Education Matters host Katie Olmsted serves as Media Relations Consultant for the Ohio Education Association. She joined OEA in May 2020, after a ten-year career as an Emmy Award winning television reporter, anchor, and producer. Katie comes from a family of educators and is passionate about telling educators' stories and advocating for Ohio's students. She lives in Central Ohio with her husband and two young children.
This episode was recorded on April 4 and April 6, 2023.

What is Public Education Matters?

Ohio's public schools serve 1.6 million children - 90 percent of students in the state! What happens in the classroom has impacts far beyond the walls of the K-12 school building or higher ed lecture hall. So, on behalf of the 120,000 members of the Ohio Education Association, we're taking a deeper dive into some of the many education issues facing our students, educators, and communities. Originally launched in 2021 as Education Matters, Public Education Matters is your source for insightful conversations with the people who shape the education landscape in Ohio. Have a topic you'd like to hear about on Public Education Matters? Email us at

Intro 0:07
This is Education Matters, brought to you by the Ohio Education Association.

Katie Olmsted 0:15
Thanks for joining us for this edition of Education Matters, your source for insightful conversations about the big issues facing Ohio's public schools every day. I'm Katie Olmsted. Over the last month you've probably heard quite a few conversations about a piece of legislation introduced in the Ohio State House called Senate Bill 83. The bill's sponsor, Republican Jerry Cirino from Kirtland, calls Senate Bill 83 the Higher Education Enhancement Act, but calling it the Higher Education Destruction Act may be a more appropriate name. It's bad for students, it's bad for higher education and it is bad for Ohio. It is a sweeping bill that would create unprecedented levels of political interference and micromanagement of Ohio's colleges and universities. And under the banner of culture war rhetoric, the bill is a real threat to free thought, free speech, and free enterprise. It would put Ohio at a significant economic disadvantage by preventing students from developing the skills they need to thrive in our workplaces. Not to mention the fact that it would make it much harder to attract the best and brightest students and faculty to the campuses in our state. And it would take money out of Ohio's classrooms and put it into the already bloated bureaucracies to pay for the untenable, unfunded mandates that bill puts in place. And that's not the half of it. That's why students, staff and concerned citizens across the state are coming together to fight back. We wanted to learn more about why this fight is so important on campuses across Ohio. So we invited Adam Keller, president of the Columbus State Education Association, to share his thoughts. We also invited Mark Vopat, a philosophy professor at Youngstown State University and the YSU-OEA president to join us. Up first, we're hearing from Mark.

Katie Olmsted 2:12
Mark Vopat, YSU-OEA President, thank you so much for sitting down to share your thoughts with us. For people who are unfamiliar with this bill, what are some of the most pressing concerns in it? What should we really be paying attention to?

Mark Vopat 2:28
What students should be concerned with is the way in which the state really seems to be micromanaging the content of our classes and what we're able to learn, or what we're able to teach and what students are able to learn. So there's a lot in this bill that is really, really questioning sort of academic freedom. Actually, the search at the very beginning of the bill, there's a statement that we're looking for truth at the university, I think it's in one of the earliest sections that you know, the purpose is to look for truth. At the same time, the bill actually defines already what is true or not true, or what you can talk about and what you can't talk about. So there's immediately already right at the beginning, there's a problem in terms of, in terms of content, right. So that's one of the problems. We obviously also have a problem with the ability to strike, which is also at the very end of the bill, sort of thrown in as a faculty aren't allowed during contract negotiations strikes. So obviously, as a union, and even as a faculty, our ability to attract and retain good faculty is really put in jeopardy when you don't have the ability to negotiate a fair contract and a contract that protects academic freedom and protects what goes on in the classroom. So there's, I mean, there's a broad gamut of concerns that we have with this bill, you know, from from all the way from the student end to the faculty end.

Katie Olmsted 3:44
Well, and, and a lot of the bill doesn't make sense. There's a lot of contradictions in there. There's a lot of stuff that you're already doing. And that doesn't make sense to me either. Let's talk about those things.

Speaker 3 3:56
Yeah. So, so part of this bill is that they want a balanced approach to what goes on in the classroom, and all viewpoints are representated. But on the one hand, they're asking for intellectual diversity. So they want diverse viewpoints, which I think is already there. I think if any of these representatives, senators would would come into a classroom, they would see this. I think, by and large, they would see a diversity of views. But also at the same time, they don't want any ideological litmus test. So you want diversity, but I can't actually ask about what your view is. So now, to be quite honest, we've never been able to ask a person about their political beliefs or ideas. That's already against the law. So I've been on several hiring committees for both faculty and administrators. We can't ask that already. So I'm on it's unclear to me why there's a bill telling me I can't do what already by law I can't do. There's other things about whether I can teach certain controversial subjects. So I don't know what they mean by a controversial subject. So for example, I mean, we were talking before, is the Holocaust controversial did it happen or did it not happen?

Katie Olmsted 4:58
As the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, it happened, I'm just saying.

Mark Vopat 5:01
It happened. So there's so I mean -

Katie Olmsted 5:02
No controversy there.

Mark Vopat 5:03
I tend to be on your side, but we need to teach both sides of the argument, right?

Katie Olmsted 5:06
That's insane.

Mark Vopat 5:06
I mean, you can see how, yeah, you can see how ridiculous that is. And then

Katie Olmsted 5:10
Climate change, same way.

Mark Vopat 5:11
Right, climate change is the other one that I point to when people say, Well, my teaching both? Well, yeah, 380 different scientific organizations, 1000s of scientists, all say that we are influencing the environment and the climate. And there's a small percentage, a small minority says we're not. Well, is that controversial? How do you define controversial, right? So same thing. You know, we have the Flat Earth Society, used to be out of Case Western. The, the home of the Flat Earth Society used to be out of Case Western. And I tell my students this all the time, that this is the place where the Michelson-Morley experiment happened, where they proved that light bends around objects. I'm going, so the very place where we showed that you know, but we did an experiment that said, See those big spheres in the sky, it bends light, because they're so massive? They, they believe that the earth is flat. Well, is that controversial?

Katie Olmsted 5:57
Do you have to teach that now?

Mark Vopat 5:58
Do we have to teach that? Do we, is the earth 5000 years old or something like 3 billion years old? Right?

Katie Olmsted 6:03
But at the same time, we can't talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, based on this bill. And that that's a huge problem in itself. I mean -

Mark Vopat 6:12
That, probably, all these things I mean, some of this, you might say well, that that wouldn't happen. Now, by the way, these controversial topics like climate change are explicitly listed. And it's also the, it's, the onus is on the administration to actually report this if someone violates this bill. So it becomes administrative administratively problematic, but the DEI, diversity, equity, inclusion is really problematic, because many of our research grants have a DEI component to them. So when we get grants, they come and they say, Well, you have to make sure that you're following certain practices in line with diversity, equity and inclusion. This, I think there's a misnomer around this as well, because you know, oftentimes, I encourage, I make an active effort to encourage - In my discipline, philosophy, I'll all admit, we've been terrible about getting women and minorities into our discipline. This is not affirmative action, this is actually being active and remembering to say, look, when I see a student who's doing well, I should encourage especially women and minority students to pursue degrees in philosophy to go that that they shouldn't feel not accepted in the field. But this also falls into accreditation issues. So there are certain accrediting bodies for universities that are looking at including DEI in their requirements. So what happens to our engineering program, if they can't you do DEI training, and yet DEI training is required for accreditation? And I think it's a lot of other universities. And now, now, I can't attract faculty, I can't get accredited for the, you know, in the discipline. And that's not good for students, right? That's not good for students. It's not good for the university.

Mark Vopat 6:21
And students go to these universities to acquire the job skills they're going to need to make them hireable, qualified, attractive candidates in the workforce. And with this blanket prohibition on DEI, we're really putting them at a disadvantage. The US Chamber of Commerce says so.

Mark Vopat 8:01
Yeah, I mean, that's the one and that, you know, I after hearing this, I actually went to the website, I said, What is the - Of all the organizations, let me look for what I think most would acknowledge is a fairly conservative, pro-business sort of organization and the US Chamber of Commerce actually endorses putting in place DEI sort of training and a DEI approach to hiring and running businesses. Because, again, I think people are equating this with some sort of affirmative action, which it's not right. It's about having the widest range of representation and skills and people with backgrounds, that it makes your business stronger. Now, our students need to understand those principles. Going to a job interview, going to a company that has you know, that embraces DEI principles. I know I have a actually, I should say an acquaintance that works at training people in DEI at companies like Stouffers, here in Ohio, and their company has a DEI office, right? So it's part of the job landscape. So if you're really concerned about student success, and you're concerned about students moving from College to Careers, this is something they're going to have to be aware of, the companies are doing this at these are and again, we're not talking about something like old school affirmative action sort of debate. This is a different, this is a different thing. So it's troubling, all of this becomes troubling. When you have a bill that it seems to be that the writers of the bill really haven't taken the time to actually step foot into universities, the day to day operations. What things are we already doing? What aren't we? What do we need for our accreditation? What do we need for grants? This this is, I think this is just too hastily put together. This is not good for Ohio schools.

Katie Olmsted 9:35
It's bad for Ohio students, bad for higher education, bad for Ohio. That is the song this entire choir is singing because across the state, we're all recognizing the irreversible damage that this bill could do for our students. And I really just very briefly want to touch on one thing that I think is very YSU specific, going back to that striking provision. It does kind of feel like they wrote that bill just for you guys. You did have that very brief strike in 2020 that won big things for you and your students, but strikes in higher education are so exceedingly rare. And the the argument that, well, 'students shouldn't have to pay, they've prepaid, they should not have to lose out on the instruction because of a strike,' having the state get involved in the bargaining process, it seems to be a disservice to students.

Mark Vopat 10:29
It is a disservice. And the other thing I mean, when you when you put it in that context, which I think is very good, I mean, that's a good way to put it is that each university has its own unique set of challenges its own unique student body. I mean, the students that come to YSU tend to be a lot of first generation college students, tend to be regional, they're from most of this area, or Western Pennsylvania. So these are first generation college students with unique needs. And it's primarily a commuter school. We have, we've more and more people living on campus, but still primarily commuter. That's much different than Ohio State and who Ohio State's drawing from, or Cincinnati or Toledo or any other school. So that negotiation, that bargain is really reflective of the needs of students and the faculty in the region, like for the particular school, and when the state comes in and tries to give you sort of a vanilla general thing that's supposed to cover everyone, it's not going to work. And it doesn't, and it doesn't do a service to the students in those different universities, or the faculty. And so you're getting involved with negotiations. I mean, we'll get involved with things like when a syllabus should be, when a student should get the syllabus or, you know, what we're going to do in cases of students who are working, if we have to make accommodations. Our contract may have been talked about things about, about how we deal with student complaints, or how we do, I mean, all of these are very specific to the way our university runs, the types of students we're dealing with how we inform students of things. You know, some universities in Ohio may have mandatory laptops, others don't. So now we have to in our contract, there might be things about access to computers or computer labs, or, you know, whether we have to have a printed copy or not, because our students might be different than other students. So the requirements for me as a professor might differ a little bit because of who we're serving. So it is troubling when you have you know, I don't want the state legislature negotiating. I mean, presumably, they should be trusting the administrators and the boards that they've put in place and not trying to micromanage our contracts.

Katie Olmsted 12:22
Mark Vopat, YSU-OEA president, I really appreciate you taking the time to explain that to us.

Mark Vopat 12:29
Thanks for having me.

Katie Olmsted 12:32
The concerns of the students and higher ed faculty and staff at YSU, you are shared by those on campuses across our state, who are worried not only about those one-size-fits-all mandates that don't fit anywhere, but also about things like potentially rising tuition costs to cover the price of all the administrative red tape for colleges and universities under Senate Bill 83, if it passes, as Adam Keller, an organic chemistry professor at Columbus State Community College, and President of the Columbus State Education Association tells us, the bill is already causing harm.

Katie Olmsted 13:08
Adam Keller, thank you so much for joining us to share your thoughts. Right off the bat, I want to make it very clear that you are speaking on behalf of the Columbus State Education Association and not your employer, just like any of our members who are joining us on this podcast. But I also want to check in with you about your initial reactions to this. I spoke to you right after this bill initially dropped. What did you think when you saw it?

Adam Keller 13:33
Well, I wish I could say I was surprised, but I wasn't. My immediate thought was, here it is. We've been waiting for it. We've seen it happen in Florida. We've seen it happen around the country in some other states, and fully expected to see some form of that this type of legislation land on the Senate or the House, and really kind of did expect it to happen this, since the biennium budget season. So that was my initial thought was completely surprised. But I, I was a bit taken aback with some of the liberties I think that the authors of this bill took, and just how far they reached into what is otherwise, in my opinion, daily operations of how folks in higher ed do their job, both in terms of trying to legislate, how do you do your job, and also legislate how your job's performance is evaluated. A lot of those things seemed, it looks very unusual to me that at the legislative level of the state would be this granular about how to dictate experts in various disciplines in higher ed and how they're going to do their job. I don't believe that the state legislature has the perspective necessary to know what is the best kind of learning environment since being a higher ed expert is not a prerequisite to be a state senator or congressperson.

Katie Olmsted 14:50
At the end of the day. What is happening is legislative overreach that is micromanaging how we run higher education in our state to the detriment of our students, and to the detriment of our state. All of those things that are really, as you mentioned, the granular minutiae of how colleges and universities are run, are being done under this overreaching banner of culture war issues.

Adam Keller 15:17
That's right.

Katie Olmsted 15:18
And that's so dangerous on so many levels. But it's also even dangerous for us to to give this thing oxygen at this point. What are your thoughts on that?

Adam Keller 15:28
Well, I mean, I agree with everything you just said. I think it is dangerous to give this oxygen because I believe one of the intentions of this bill, knowing that it was going - is and was going to be met with opposition - is to divide anyone, to give everybody a dozen different reasons as to why they would be in opposition to this kind of a bill. It's a lot easier to make the opposition sound like they don't know what they're talking about if there's 12 different people all complaining about 12 individual things rather than having a unified voice in opposition to this bill as a whole. And so I think that was part of the intention. I also agree with this being part of a culture war. But I also think that this this has, I have to believe this has something to do with with the fact that the budget is going to be passed by the statehouse in the next couple of months, by the end of June. And so it's hard to know exactly what the budgetary intentions are. I would suspect, and this is just me talking, that it would have something to do with with cutting off support or funding to one or more institutions. That that's those are my initial thoughts as to the reasoning behind it. But I am paying close attention so that we can understand more about what the real intentions are as we get closer to amendments being made, or some version of this coming out of this committee, and ultimately being considered by the Senate. Everyone who has a vested interest in higher education in the state of Ohio should all be on the same page and have a general understanding of how to oppose this bill, right, legislatively, I think and make sure that the right message is delivered on the floor, when we have the opportunity to provide opponent testimony.

Katie Olmsted 17:10
I believe we can count on you to provide that opponent testimony?

Adam Keller 17:14
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, part of the reason why I'm in the role that I that I'm in as president of our local association is to ensure that it's, that we don't just have the best possible learning conditions for our students, which I believe is goes hand in hand with the best possible working conditions for the teachers, but also the future of the whole thing. You know, not just what's happening today, but how are we able to navigate our jobs and improve education and allow it to evolve the way that education should, you know, over the next 10 or 20 years?

Katie Olmsted 17:45
I don't even want to think about what education, higher education in Ohio would look like, or even what Ohio would look like in 10 or 20 years if this bill passes as written. At the very least, it would make Ohio so much less competitive. If you were a higher ed faculty member, why would you work in Ohio? If you were a student looking to go into higher education, why would you choose Ohio when the legislature is micromanaging what you have to be taught, how you have to be taught, how you're supposed to think about things, instead of letting you learn the material from qualified professionals and forming your own opinions? I wouldn't want to go to school in Ohio, if that was the future we're looking at.

Adam Keller 18:27
No, I have to agree with you on that. And I, I believe if I've looked at the numbers, recently, and over time, I don't think even the majority of educators in higher ed in Ohio are actually from Ohio. And it's not uncommon that when you are looking for an academic position, you're going to look in not just one particular institution or one particular state, but you're going to look at what options you have across the country. And all I can think of why if this kind of bill were to be passed, I don't think it would make any headway to attracting the most competitive, I think, or you know, top shelf educators but but rather educators that that believe that their politics and their their views when it comes to politics are paramount in terms of where they work and what they do for a living. The irony is that this bill supposedly, is in their words, in the author's words, to address the pervasion of political ideas in higher ed, when this is the direct opposite. I think that's what draws people into this kind of job in the first place is putting the the ideas and the education above everything else, above politics, above what your family, what you learn at home or where you've learned, giving you the ability to formulate your own ideas based on the objective presentation of information. If, if anything that doesn't align with that is happening in the classroom, then it's few and far between. I'll give you an example. I've recently was just on a search committee to hire several professors for a class and for a discipline where it's very writing intensive. And a lot of these writings involve providing reflections and responses to a article that they've read or a show that they've watched or discussion that they that they engaged in. And everything that I heard about, all of the those that interviewed for that position, was the lengths that they go to ensure that when there's one or more students in the class that have what could be called a minority opinion, or maybe you're not agreeing with the author or not agreeing with most of the students in the class, av nd all of the strategies they use to ensure that that student's opinion and voice is heard, and isn't intimidated to share what they believe and share what they think, even if it doesn't align with the majority of the people in the room, and allowing a real debate to occur in a respectful manner, so that everybody can walk away understanding that they may not agree, but they certainly respect each other's ideas and respect each other's perspectives and their own experiences. I mean, that is paramount to the work that we do. And so it's it's hard to not take it personally, when you see a bill introduced like this, with a lot of rhetoric behind it, saying that by default, that is what we all do as teachers. And it's just not true.

Katie Olmsted 21:15
Even if you're not doing any of those things. I think and even honestly, if this bill doesn't pass, we face a very real reality where the very idea of the bill may prevent you from doing your job effectively for your kids, because you were afraid of consequences that may be thrown at you from the legislature.

Adam Keller 21:37
Yeah, that's absolutely right. In fact, I think even without this bill passing, if it were, if it were trashed tomorrow and never spoke up, again, I'm afraid it's already had an impact in that way, on some level. The chilling effect on what teachers talk about and what what students are allowed to talk about, and how ideas are shared and what ideas are shared. All ideas should be shared. And they should talk about anything that's relevant to the academic material. What I've been telling my colleagues and will continue to tell them is to keep doing the work, keep doing the work. And don't let something that's been tossed around in the statehouse, right, have adult deleterious effect on the work that you're currently doing.

Katie Olmsted 22:14
Keep doing the work to serve the students who are counting on you.

Adam Keller 22:18
That's right.

Katie Olmsted 22:19
Well, Adam Keller, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this.

Adam Keller 22:22
Oh, it's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Katie Olmsted 22:25
If you'd like to let your lawmakers know exactly what you think about Senate Bill 83, or its companion bill, House Bill 151, there's an action alert on OEA's website to help you do that. The link is in the show notes for this episode. New Education Matters episodes drop every Thursday morning. Until next time, stay well.

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