It won’t. Not technically.

Ohio Senate Bill 83, the “Enact Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act” is a controversial bill aimed at reforming higher education in the state of Ohio. The bill passed the Ohio Senate on 17 May 2023 and was referred to the House Higher Education Committee on 23 May 2023. The first hearing in the House Committee on the bill was held on 24 May 2023, and it appears to be stuck there ever since. The legislature typically takes a summer recess, but as September churns on we will begin to see more activity. No further hearings appear to be scheduled as of now, but the language of the bill as passed by the Senate is available for all to read.

Sen. Jerry Cirino (R – Kirkland), the bill’s primary sponsor, gave his view as to why the bill is necessary when he testified in the first Workforce and Higher Education committee hearing. He stated:

 “SB 83 is a much needed course correction for our institutions of higher learning. This course correction is needed now so that we do not end up with institutions that are more focused on social engineering rather than true intellectual diversity of thought and the teaching of useful analytical skills.” 

Senate Democrat Leader Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood) issued the following statement after the Senate passed the bill, stating:

“This bill is an egregious overreach by the Republican majority to micromanage Ohio’s colleges and universities. It is a bill that could silence Ohio’s best and brightest. How are we as a state supposed to claim to educate future generations to the fullest without the discussion and understanding of all views and perspectives? If students are fearful to express their identity as one who has experienced some kind of adversity or discrimination, this will ultimately turn away anyone considering Ohio for its colleges. Republicans’ efforts of limiting diversity, equity, and inclusion from Ohio’s institutions beg the question: who is welcome?

The first version of the bill as introduced contained language that would put private universities like ONU under the purview of the law, including a definition for “private institution of higher education”, which was to mean “a nonprofit institution holding a certificate of authorization pursuant to Chapter 1713. of the Revised Code.” The language of the bill as passed by the Senate, however, does not have this provision. 

Like most pieces of legislation, SB 83 went through a contentious round of comments from interested parties in the Ohio Senate. Once the committee members had heard everyone who cared to come speak to them about the bill, they made their changes. Private institutions are not mentioned amongst any of the provisions, references to O.R.C. § 1713 are gone, and the only identifying language that remains does not appear to touch ONU. 

SB 83 governs the conduct of “state institution(s) of higher education”, which is given the same definition present in O.R.C § 3345.011. This section defines “state institution of higher education” as “any state university or college as defined in division (A)(1) of section 3345.12 of the Revised Code, community college, state community college, [satellite branch], or technical college.” O.R.C. § 3345.12(A)(1) says that “state university or college” refers to “each of the state universities identified in section 3345.011 of the Revised Code and northeast Ohio medical university.” Those universities are “university of Akron, Bowling Green state university, Central state university, university of Cincinnati, Cleveland state university, Kent state university, Miami university, northeast Ohio medical university, Ohio university, Ohio state university, Shawnee state university, university of Toledo, Wright state university, and Youngstown state university.” Notably, Ohio Northern University is not on that list.

Legislation has far reaching implications, including some that even drafters and policy watch dogs might not anticipate. It is very possible that some aspect of this bill will play a role in effectuating some alternate outcome somewhere within the sphere of influence of ONU, but the language of the bill does not directly concern ONU in the same way it concerns the universities listed above. SB83 has drawn lots of attention from both sides of the aisle. Students at ONU may hear discussion about it from friends at other universities, elected officials, thought leaders, or cultural figures. This discussion around the bill is where ONU students will likely be affected the most. Polar Bears can see their fellow Buckeyes, Redhawks, Bobcats, and Bearcats grapple with the implications of SB 83 and in doing so choose how they will allow it to affect their role in their communities. ONU as an incorporated university might not have to change anything as a result of this bill but ONU as a community will feel its reverberations, whether we like it or not.

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