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College students are concerned over a strict new bill that could limit higher education: 'You can say gravity isn't true...'

"SB 83 threatens to impair [academic rigor] by proposing limitations on faculty speech."

SB 83, limitations on freedom in classrooms

Photo Credit: iStock

In recent months, the U.S. has seen a wave of conservative legislation targeting colleges and universities. A new bill in the Ohio General Assembly follows this trend by aiming to restrict what educators can teach about our changing climate.

What's happening?

Ohio Senate Bill 83 is a proposed bill that limits discussion surrounding "controversial beliefs or policies" on college campuses. 

According to the bill, one "controversial policy" involves the changing climate. The bill demands that educators "encourage students to reach their own conclusions about all controversial beliefs or policies and shall not seek to inculcate any social, political, or religious point of view."

Among the bill's "controversial beliefs or policies" are those surrounding "climate policies, electoral politics, foreign policy, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, immigration policy, marriage, or abortion."

The bill passed the Ohio Senate and has moved to the Ohio House.

Why is this bill concerning?

If passed, educators would have to tread carefully when discussing the planet's changing climate despite the fact that scientific evidence has proven that human-driven environmental changes are happening. Educators and students alike worry that if the bill becomes law, they won't be able to teach and learn accurate climate science.

Keely Fisher, a Ph.D. candidate at Ohio State University's School of Environment and Natural Resources, worries that the bill would discourage students from studying climate change

"We shouldn't be pushing environmentalists and people who care about climate change away from the state," she told Inside Climate News.

"You can say gravity isn't true, but if you step off the cliff, you're going down," atmospheric scientist and educator Katharine Hayhoe told Inside Climate News. "And if you teach other people that gravity is not true, you are morally responsible for anything that happens to them if they make decisions based on the information you provided."

What's being done about this bill?

Students, educators, Ohio citizens, and even Ohio universities have spoken out against the bill. Demonstrators have protested by attending hearings for the bill wearing tape over their mouths to critique what they see as the bill's infringements on free speech.

Ohio State University's Board of Trustees released a statement criticizing the bill, writing, "Academic rigor is at the foundation of a quality education; SB 83 threatens to impair it by proposing limitations on faculty speech not 'favoring or disfavoring' controversial views."

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