Oh Hell N-O


Unwieldy bill would destroy higher education in Ohio | American Historical Association (news.yahoo.com)
“‘Don’t just publish another paper. Let’s do something,’ says scholar-advocate Cindy Blackstock (universityaffairs.ca)

As spring passes, a handful of elementary schools across America will still devote their last day to outdoor activities for their students, to help them blow off the stress of the past academic year. (Far fewer schools are doing this than was the case when I was younger, with the push to pass all those standardized tests and all that junk.) The private school I started attending in fourth grade was no different when I was a student there, and one of my sharpest memories of those days was that when I was finally old enough to be one of the “team leaders” of the various groups of students that were made for those days, even though about three-quarters of my classmates got to be leaders, I was never given that privilege. It wasn’t a surprise, given how I was treated at that school, but it still hurt, and between that and pressure from my father, I embarked on a number of self-started opportunities back then, from newsletters to attempted concerts, that all invariably failed because I didn’t know what I was doing, and none of the teachers there were interested in teaching me (about anything).

Despite the problems I had with similar Internet-based ventures in the nineties, I managed to at least find some success there. About sixteen months after I started going to the University of Toledo, though, I became the president of their LGBTQIA+/SAGA student group (after all the other officers resigned, a story for another time), and I was committed to making sure that, with all that I had riding on my return to higher education, I would succeed in that new leadership role. Within a year, after I was able to get a new full-time officer team, our active membership had grown more than sixfold, and while I made my share of mistakes in that time, I left my presidency, on my way to grad school, feeling like I had finally proven that I could be an effective leader.

There’s little doubt in my mind that my leadership experiences running that student group translated directly to my first job teaching English when I was in grad school. I made (at least) my fair share of mistakes at the start, but when I ran into difficulties, I remembered how I’d been able to bounce back from my earlier leadership mistakes, and I persevered. More to the point, I had the counsel of that student group’s faculty advisor, a professor in the Women’s and Gender Studies department, who guided me not just as a leader and a teacher, but as a human being struggling to make my way in a world that was often unwelcoming to me. Nearly eighteen years into my teaching career now, I don’t think I would have ever made it this far if I hadn’t had those opportunities in college to lead my peers and work closely with my teaching colleagues.

If Ohio Senate Bill 83 passes in its current form, someone like me at the University of Toledo, or any other college in Ohio, would not get those opportunities in the future. Student groups for SAGA people would be banned. Women’s and Gender Studies departments wouldn’t be allowed. Every new class of students would be forced into a higher education experience that would, by legislative fiat, indoctrinate them in the false equality of “blindness” to difference, and force radical right-wing ideology into classes in the name of “intellectual diversity.” Not even Republicans in Florida have tried anything of this magnitude yet, but if what is being proposed in Ohio right now somehow becomes law, other red states would likely be quick to follow suit, stripping academic freedom from all their colleges and universities, and turning them into more tools of far-right indoctrination.

From the moment conservatives like John M. Olin and Richard Nixon began exercising their heavy hands over higher education in America, too many professors have been okay with seeing their freedoms gradually taken away, no matter how much damage was being done to their institutions, just as long as they were still able to make lots of money. From the funding debates of the seventies, to the “political correctness” tussles of the nineties, to the recent controversies over the teaching of history, responses of professors to the erosions of their rights (and, more importantly, the rights of their students) have ranged from the tepid to the nonexistent. I would like to think that the horrors of what would happen if this bill in Ohio is passed will be enough to get professors across the nation to finally advocate for their rights, beyond writing papers for a bunch of academic journals that only a few thousand people will ever read, but given how these things have gone in the past, I don’t have much hope for that.

When I was applying to colleges and universities for a full-time position in 2018, I got to the interview stage with a community college in central Ohio, just close enough to Toledo to make daytrips to my hometown possible if I got hired there. Not getting that position was a real bummer for me at the time, but in light of these recent developments, now I’m actually glad that I’m not currently employed in Ohio, because it’s not hyperbole to say that Senate Bill 83 will destroy higher education in the state if it’s passed in its current form. Will professors, not just in Ohio but throughout the nation, finally awaken from their slumber to put up a real fight for the rights of themselves and their students, or will they just continue to go along with whatever politicians and their financiers shove down their throats?

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