Ohio's climate change in higher education bill in the news

Ohio State University's University Hall.

Ohio State University's University Hall. By Robert ChrissCC BY-SA 3.0.

The treatment of climate change in Ohio's Senate Bill 83 was the focus of a story in Energy News Network (March 23, 2023), featuring comments from NCSE's Deputy Director Glenn Branch.

As NCSE previously reported, the bill would, if enacted, require the state's public institutions of higher education to remain in effect neutral about "controversial" beliefs and policies — which explicitly include climate change. Specifically, the bill would require each such institution to "[a]ffirm and guarantee that faculty and staff shall allow and encourage students to reach their own conclusions about all controversial matters"; to "[a]ffirm and guarantee that it will not endorse, oppose, comment, or take action, as an institution, on the public policy controversies of the day, or any other ideology, principle, concept, or formulation that requires commitment to any controversial belief or policy"; and to "[p]rohibit political and ideological litmus tests in all hiring, promotion, and admissions decisions, including ... commitment to any controversial belief or policy."

The primary sponsor of the bill, Jerry Cirino (R-District 18), told Energy News Network that it was his idea to include climate change and that he "didn't actually consult with climate people." Cyrus Taylor of Case Western Reserve University described the idea that climate change is controversial as "simply wrong": "The science is absolutely clear," he added. Steve Rissing of the Ohio State University (a recipient of NCSE's Friend of Darwin award) was quoted as saying, "You'd be hard pressed these days to find a legitimate climate scientist or environmental scientist who says, 'I don't believe in climate change.'" NCSE's Glenn Branch suggested that the description of climate change as controversial is "going to have a chilling effect," discouraging faculty from teaching about climate change for fear of encountering objections based on the provisions of the bill.

Energy News Network also investigated the origins of the bill. While Cirino said that he and his staff wrote most of the bill themselves, he acknowledged that "some concepts came from the National Association of Scholars," which had earlier posted a statement commending Cirino from borrowing from its model legislation. "Founded in 1987, the group has a history of opposing affirmative action programs and 'keeping outside political influences from tainting teaching and learning on campuses,' according to DeSmog," the story observed, adding, "A 2021 report from the organization is also critical about climate change being taught in grade schools and high school." The report in question, a broad attack on the Next Generation Science Standards, was written by "a nursing professor, someone with a master's in space science, and someone with a Ph.D. in history," Branch noted.

The story concluded, "Cirino gave sponsor testimony on SB 83 on March 23 at a packed committee hearing ... He also chairs the committee and said he hopes to move the bill along swiftly."

Glenn Branch
Short Bio

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.