A senator tells Ohio’s university presidents to bring spending info with capital budget asks

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — The Republican senator behind the bill that seeks to address concerns conservatives have had about “cancel culture” and higher education has a request for university presidents seeking money in the upcoming capital budget. Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) wants them to come to hearings prepared to defend their spending.

The Ohio State University's William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library from the outside
The Ohio State University’s William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library. Some of the $102 million in funds to renovate the library in 2009 came from the state capital budget. [Jo McCulty | Ohio State University]
Cirino wrote to university presidents, telling them they should be prepared to explain the need for their capital budget projects and any “cost avoidance data,” as well as “how the project will impact the future delivery of instruction.”
Cirino also added that presidents should bring “a five-year institutional cost summary” in three categories: student instruction costs, including instructor salaries and benefits; general staff, administrative and maintenance costs, including grounds, utilities and food service; and all other staff-related costs, such as financial aid assistance, healthcare services and housing management.
He noted in the letter: “The information provided for each category should include a detailed breakdown of annual costs and employee headcounts, an annual count of all faculty, administration and employees, and a complete accounting of all spending on diversity, equity and inclusion, or related subjects.”
Cirino is the sponsor of Senate Bill 83, which bans most DEI programs at publicly-funded universities. It requires what’s called “intellectual diversity” on topics spelled out in the legislation: “climate policies; electoral politics; foreign policy; diversity, equity, and inclusion programs; immigration policy; marriage; or abortion.”
The bill prohibits universities from taking public positions on controversial topics, though they can lobby lawmakers on issues. It cuts the terms of university trustees from nine years to six years. And it includes a ban on financial partnerships with China, but that doesn’t include tuition from Chinese students. An earlier version also banned faculty strikes, but Cirino said he dropped that from the bill to get it through the House.SB 83 is strongly opposed by faculty and most student groups, and hundreds have turned out to provide remarks or written testimony against it. The Ohio State University Board of Trustees issued a statement opposing it in May, though the bill has been changed since then.

Cirino says Ohio State spends about $14 million a year on DEI programs and has around 144 people in that department. The university has nearly 48,000 employees and a budget of more than $9 billion.

“On a relative basis $14 million is small, relative to their budget,” Cirino said. “But to the taxpayers and the parents and students who are paying tuition, $14 million is not chump change.”

Cirino said he wants to know where their budgets are going and why before more money comes from the capital budget.

“Will it impact the actual numbers that are given? It certainly could, depending on the kinds of information that we get from the presidents,” Cirino said.

But Cirino said he’s “not coming into this with any kind of negative feelings” about how universities are spending the funds they already have.

“The numbers may be good, the numbers may not be good. Maybe they’re not enough. We’re completely open,” Cirino said. “But we feel that the appropriations are so large in general that it requires us to have these hearings to hear from the presidents who are making the requests, and to have them tell us more about their universities and about the status of the campus. I think these are very legitimate questions for us to ask.”