Ohio State could soon have a redoubt for free academic inquiry.
Free speech on campus has been making a modest comeback of late, as more schools look for ways to reintroduce classical liberal principles of civic debate and expression. The latest step forward is in Ohio, where the Legislature is planning a new school for free expression and academic inquiry in Columbus.
Lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a bill to create the Salmon P. Chase center for civics, culture and society at Ohio State University. Named for the former Ohio Governor who was also a Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, the school would be an independent academic unit on campus that would focus on the “historical ideas, traditions and texts that have shaped the American Constitutional order and society.”
The school is intended to encourage greater academic diversity. It will “create a community dedicated to an ethic of civil and free inquiry, which respects the intellectual freedom of each member,” according to the legislation. Classes will include lessons on the “books and major debates which form the intellectual foundation of free societies.” A school with a similar writ will be created at the University of Toledo College of Law.
Ohio State’s plan, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Robert McColley and Sen. Jerry Cirino, follows a similar effort at the University of North Carolina, where the trustees this year announced a new School of Civic Life and Leadership. That plan enraged many in the school’s left-leaning faculty who are trying to block the project.
Mr. McColley tells us that Ohio’s effort is aimed at “receentering the topics and experience of higher education.” College was “once known as a place to explore the viewpoints of others around you,” without being subjected to a heckler’s veto, he adds.
The best development would be for school presidents to reclaim instruction and debate from campus censors. But too few are willing to risk their careers or endure harassment to do it. The rise of the diversity, equity and inclusion bureaucracy has also institutionalized the use of race and gender as weapons to claim offense and censor speech that upsets progressive sensibilities.
That leaves the school-within-a-school idea as one way to establish a redoubt for open intellectual inquiry. There’s always the risk that these schools can also be captured, but give Ohio lawmakers credit for trying.