Cleveland State “intends to comply with” Senate Bill 117, to establish independent center in Levin College

The Ohio Senate passed Senate Bill 117 to establish a center for civics, culture and society in the Levin College of Public Affairs and Education as an independent academic unit from Cleveland State University on June 28.

The bill passed along party lines, with 25 Republicans voting for it and 7 Democrats voting against it.

The bill caught Cleveland State by surprise, according to Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood.

“They had absolutely no idea,” Antonio told reporters on June 28. “They did not ask for it…and are very concerned about this being imposed on them.”

The Cauldron reached out to CSU’s administration and received the following response from a spokesperson: 

“We acknowledge that Senate Bill 117 is now law and Cleveland State University intends to comply with this law to the best of our ability.  We are proud of the work already underway to advance students’ civic engagement and to embed the principles of free expression and thought across our campus.  In many ways, the spirit of this new law is reflected in CSU’s existing actions and policies that have led to our campus receiving a “green light” rating from FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). With these practices in place, we will be building on a strong foundation as we move forward.”

Green light institutions ranked by FIRE are colleges and universities whose policies nominally protect free speech.

The Cauldron also reached out to the Faculty Senate President Anup Kumar, Ph.D., along with the administration, asking which side told Antonio they were concerned. Neither side confirmed to The Cauldron that they told Antonio they were “very concerned” about the bill.

Senators Jerry C. Cirino, R-Kirtland, and Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, introduced SB 117, which was signed into law by Governor Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, on July 7 in the state’s operating budget.

The bill never received a hearing in the House.

The center will establish that historical ideas, traditions, and texts have shaped the American constitutional order and society, according to SB 117. The center will offer instruction, research, and provide the following:

  • Education for students by means of free, open, and rigorous intellectual inquiry to seek the truth.
  • Teaching the foundations of responsible leadership and informed citizenship.

The bill will require the CSU Board of Trustees to appoint a seven-member academic council for the center, as well as for each member to be confirmed by the Ohio Senate.

The council would recommend a list of potential directors to the president of the university. Then, they would select and appoint the director, subject to the board of trustees’ approval.

The director would then be in charge of recruiting and hiring at least ten tenure-track faculty positions.

The state would provide CSU $2 million each fiscal year from the state’s budget to operate the center, according to SB 117.

Cirino also introduced Senate Bill 83, also known as the Higher Education Enhancement Act, which has received criticism from CSU’s Faculty Senate and the Student Government Association as a bill that would “limit freedom of speech, academic freedom, and the ability of students to be exposed to and think about ideas.”

CSU President Laura Bloomberg, in an interview with The Cauldron in April, expressed her lack of support for certain parts of SB 83 while stating that there are parts she can support and that CSU already implements.

The Higher Education Enhancement Act passed on May 17; when moved to the Ohio House, the bill was not added to the state’s operating budget like SB 117.

This is seen as a major win for the AAUP and the many who have opposed the Higher Education Enhancement Act. The bill will have to be reintroduced in the fall—which Ohio Republicans are already promising to do.