(NEW YORK) – A sweeping legislative proposal in Ohio that takes aim at gender studies, critical race theory, diversity and inclusion initiatives, tenure, and faculty hiring review amounts to “the most draconian and censorious restrictions” on public colleges and universities in the country, PEN America said today.

The latest version of SB 83 – at 94 pages, the longest educational gag order ever proposed – contains a dizzying array of censorious restrictions on public universities and their faculty and staff. Among its provisions, the bill would ban universities from taking a position on any of a series of “controversial” and “specified concepts,” including “diversity, equity and inclusion,” “foreign policy,” “climate policies,” “allyship,” “social justice,” or even “marriage.” It would forbid professors to “inculcate” in students any “social…point of view” – language far broader and more restrictive than the typical gag order around the country. It would weaken faculty tenure protections and ban trainings on so-called “divisive concepts” relating to race and gender. It would require broad guarantees of “intellectual diversity” in all aspects of coursework and curricula, with faculty and staff subject to mandatory “discipline” if an administrator determines their “exercise of professional judgment” has been “misused to constrict intellectual diversity.” And it would impose mandatory discipline on students found to have “interfered” with “intellectual diversity rights.”

“SB 83 would not only legalize censorship in Ohio’s public universities, but would mandate it,” said Jeremy C. Young, Freedom to Learn program director. “SB 83 is the longest and most complicated educational gag order ever proposed, and one of the most censorious. It contains a rogue’s gallery of censorship aimed at faculty, administrators, and – for the first time in an educational gag order – explicitly at students. And it represents an extraordinary and unnecessary level of micromanagement of a university’s affairs.”

“The reach of this proposed legislation is breathtaking. It could be used to punish a university hospitality program for advertising itself as a wedding venue for same-sex couples. A professor could be disciplined for “misusing” their “professional judgment” by recommending a course reading an administrator dislikes, or for suggesting to students the “point of view” that racism is wrong. Even students could be punished for expressing their beliefs in a way that an administrator decides “interferes” with someone else’s view. Such a law would interfere with every aspect of university life and create a pervasive chilling effect across the entire campus community. Ohio legislators rejected two far less draconian educational gag orders last year. They should make it three in a row.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.


Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057