The Ohio State University turns harder right at the orders of the anti-democratic Ohio State Legislature and anti-intellectual Board of Trustees
Gray haired man

Ted Carter

News: Youngstown State University follows Ohio State University in appointing a retired military man as president. Radically gerrymandered Ohio US Representative Bill Johnson—best known as a roaring Trumpist and loud election denier—served in the US Air  Force for 26 years.

Unlike “Top Gun” Ted Carter who retired as a vice admiral in the Navy and led 1200 student vocational US Naval Academy and briefly the University  of Nebraska System but never a large academic campus, Johnson retired as lieutenant colonel. Condemned by all YSU parties including faculty, students, and alumni, much like his OSU football coach predecessor Jim Tressell, Johnson has no relevant preparation or experience. Tressell at least knew the locker room.

That no longer matters in Ohio, much as State Senator Jerry Cirino wishes.

OSU steadily marches away from being a university in the historical meaning of that term. This  regression includes its lack of an intellectual center, degradation of not only the arts and humanities but also the social sciences and much of the natural sciences, no central direction or communications, neglect of the rights and well-being of tuition- and fees-paying students on and off campus, reduction of full-time tenure-track faculty, and increase in staff work time without additional compensation.

It includes the dismissal (i.e., order to resign) without explanation of its second woman and first married lesbian president, removal of the administration building from the campus  itself without notice, and appointment of the least qualified major university president in more than a century. It continues its out-of-control destruction of N. High Street and the University District.

As I argue, OSU sets ever lower standards for anti-student, faculty, staff, education, and city  “Slogan U.”  Notice that the acting president is a medical researcher who is not respected in his own college or professional community, and who knows little about the university as whole. He and the Board just appointed the Dean of Optometry to serve as interim provost, that is, chief academic officer, for the entire university. Optometry?

All this foreshadows the arrival of “Top Gun”, aka “Slap Shot,” Ted Carter as president on Jan. 1, 2024. Carter has only a B.S. degree has never directed an academic university. Reported nationally but not by the Columbus Dispatch, OSU’s strictly controlled student The Lantern, and OSU-owned WOSU (the worst NPR affiliate in the US), Carter is busy reducing the arts and humanities at University of Nebraska campuses, no doubt preparing for his new gig.

Revealingly in the center of these activities is the approval and initial funding of a fraudulently named “intellectual diversity center,” at OSU, one of five established by the State Legislature in summer 2023. In fact, these units are anti-intellectual, political, and ideological “diversity” in any accepted meaning of that much abused concept. How could it be otherwise with the national attack on the seldom defined DEI or Diversity-Equity-Inclusion (which at OSU is DI, with equity forgotten).

On November 15, the trustees who sit on the Talent, Compensation & Governance Committee voted to recommend the appointment of seven members of the inaugural Salmon P. Chase Center for Civics, Culture, and Society academic council. There was no mention of stipends or honoraria for this service. The seven must be confirmed by the State Senate.

During state budget discussions last summer, Ohio lawmakers passed Senate Bill 117, creating “intellectual diversity” centers at five public universities: Ohio State University, University of Toledo, Miami University, Cleveland State University and the University of Cincinnati. Senate Bill 117 is a separate bill from anti-public education Senate Bill 83 which is still shifting and under mounting criticism from multiple sectors.

Ohio State's center will be "an independent academic center physically housed in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs," according to the board. No one defines “independent academic center.” The Glenn School is part of a public state university named for a pioneering astronaut and a Democratic U.S. Senator.

The state government daily demonstrates its lack of familiarity with Standard English vocabulary and usage, as well as history and the law including the U.S. Constitution. This is radical, unnecessary intervention is no exception.

After all, the incoherent attack on public higher education is led by Senator Jerry Cirino who claims an honorary Ph.D. from almost bankrupt, vocational Lake Erie College which does not award doctoral degrees. Cirino and his staff, along with book banners across the U.S., demonstrate little or no ability to read or write.

Cirino and his radically gerrymandered colleagues recklessly imitate Florida, Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, ignorant of the contexts of the bills that they copy blindly. They simply copy them, apparently without reading, from right wing websites like ALEC, overfunded by Kochs, Heritage Foundation, Bradley Foundation, and other radical right-wing billionaires and millionaires.

Ohio imitates Florida in particular with its right-wing anti-diversity “diversity centers.” The only “diversity,” if we can all it that, is which of its seven appointees to its “advisory council” are more right wing than the others? It is a limited degree of variation with little visible difference. Of course, the erasure of intellectual differences, let alone their recognition and legitimation, lies at the core of the university-based fraud.

With no explanation, the legislature named the Ohio State center for former Ohio governor and senator, and member of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, Salmon P. Chase. I can only assume that they are scrambling madly for an Ohio name of any historical note to paste on the center.  They reinforce my contention of illiteracy and ignorance of history.

Not only was Chase not a native-born Ohioan, but he was a Radical Republican-- when the Republican Party was far more democratic or more liberal than the Democrats on both the state and national levels.

Rooted in a commitment to anti-slavery that Chase made to his dying wife, he is credited for pushing a reluctant President Lincoln finally to issue the Emancipation Proclamation in the middle of the Civil War. This led to the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution both abolishing slavery (except for incarcerated persons) and making support of insurrection a crime.

Since Chief Justice John Roberts and a majority of the current right wing US Supreme Court think that “race” has no relationship to the Fourteenth Amendment ending racial slavery, we may presume that the legislature, OSU Board of Trustees, and advisory board of the anti-diversity center do not know this. Despite their PhDs in political science and law degrees, none seem to know American political history. How can two of the latter publish books purportedly about Lincoln?

The Chase anti-diversity center is a public insult to the memory of a rare Ohio progressive legacy. Its mission contradicts his political commitments and achievements.

The just approved advisory council joins Florida governor Ron DeSantis appointment of Trustees, president, deans, and directors at Florida’s formerly distinctive liberal arts New College.

All claim university positions, including administrative posts, but are closely connected in their very conservative to active radical right wing, anti-intellectual, anti-Constitutional, anti-democratic popular politics, and anti-free speech and academic freedom commitments.

All except two of the seven, including the most junior, OSU representative, and one who recently joined Arizona State University from a private university, are employed by very small private universities. How that prepares them to “advise” and select a director for an overly large, public, slogan-based “land grant institution” is completely unclear. Is no one in control aware of this massive disconnection? Apparently not.

All have significant relationships including monetary ones with major right-wing organizations. Intellectual honesty, political neutrality, and avoiding conflicts of interest have no place here. Their support for free speech is only for that with which they agree, much like FIRE or the Foundation for Individual Rights in Expression.

Consider the seven non-diverse appointees: two female, one Black, the overwhelming majority White males. In alphabetic order, they are

Robert George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, professor of politics, and founding director of the right-wing James Madison Program, at elite private Princeton University. Opposition to abortion, gender difference, and related interests shaped his influential right-wing career.

George received the U.S. Presidential Citizens Medal from a Republican president, the Honorific Medal for the Defense of Human Rights of the Republic of Poland, the Irving Kristol Award of the American Enterprise Institute, and the Canterbury Medal of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. He was active in the founding of Witherspoon Institute, where he is the Herbert W. Vaughan senior fellow. He is a senior fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, and Ronald Reagan Honorary Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Nootbaar Honorary Distinguished Professor of Law at Pepperdine University.

He has been a member of the boards of the Ethics and Public Policy Center,  the American Enterprise Institute, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, the Center for Individual Rights, the Heritage Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the Templeton Foundation Religion Trust.

Under the second Bush presidency, George was Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom as well was a presidential appointee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and the President’s Council on Bioethics.

Second is the only OSU appointee, just promoted  to professor Vladimir Kogan, professor of political science, co-author of two books on recent San Diego city politics.

He is well known among students for his strong ideological positions and American Enterprise Institute certificates displayed prominently on his campus office walls. He regularly publishes opinion essays that oppose campus free speech and academic freedom, as well as popular democracy especially in urban politics and school boards, and misrepresent both city managers and school boards.

Third is the only person of color, Lucas Morel, the John K. Boardman, Jr. Professor of Politics at very small private Washington and Lee University. Morel has a long-term affiliation including being a Fellow at arch-conservative Claremont Institute and an ongoing affiliation including teaching with right wing anti-historical and anti-Constitutional Hillsdale College with its online BA in Trump’s anti-American 1776 Project. He reports a specialization in religion in American politics.

Morel also teaches in the summer Master’s Program in American History and Government at Ashland University in Ohio; summer programs for the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy; and high school teacher workshops sponsored by the Ashbrook Center, the Gilder-Lehrman Institute, the Jack Miller Center, the Bill of Rights Institute, and the Liberty Fund. He is a trustee of the Supreme Court Historical Society and former president of the Abraham Lincoln Institute

In 2008-09, he was the Garwood Visiting Research Fellow at the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, another of the countless interconnections among the nondiverse advisors.

Next is Colleen Sheehan, recently appointed professor of political science in the  School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. Formerly a Republican representative in the Pennsylvania state house, she was a Republican Pennsylvania governor’s appointee to the Pennsylvania State Board of Education and the Governor's Advisory Committee on Academic Standards. 

While teaching political science at Villanova University, Sheehan directed  the Ryan Center for Free Institutions and the Public Good. During 2019-20, she  was Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought & Policy at the Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization at the University of Colorado.

Perhaps best known and most notorious is Bradley Smith, Josiah H. Blackmore II/Shirley M. Nauly Professor of Law at Columbus, Ohio’s nonacademic, locally oriented Capital University Law School. Known nationally as an outspoken opponent of democratic (small d) election campaign reform, under Bush 2 (another connection) he served as commissioner, vice chairman, and chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Smith’s Wikipedia entry is marked with a bold warning about accuracy and need for checking and confirmation.

As a result of his law journal articles, Smith became a regular witness before congressional panels on election matters. The harsh critic of his work, the Brennan Center for Justice recognized him as "the most sought after witness" to make the case for deregulation of campaign finance before congressional committees.

Because of his contrarian, deregulatory views on campaign finance, reform advocates strongly objected to his nomination.  To the FEC. Even the libertarian magazine Reason noted that virtually all reform advocates "agreed that he was the wrong person for the job." His nomination received encouragement from supporters of campaign finance deregulation, such as the Cato Institute.

As commissioner and, later, chairman of the FEC, Smith remained controversial, particularly in 2004, when, as chairman, he bucked the Republican Party and refused to support new regulations of "527 groups," organizations largely unregulated by campaign finance laws.

Smith's tenure was marked by a staunch stand against expansion of regulations. As commissioner, he actively and publicly continued to criticize campaign finance laws. He resigned in August 2005 to return to teaching, writing in his resignation letter, "Political activity is more heavily regulated than at any time in our nation's history."

At Capital University, Smith founded a non-profit Center for Competitive Politics to promote deregulation of campaign finance. In 2017,  the center revealingly changed its name to the Institute for Free Speech. Smith served as a senior fellow at the Goldwater Institute, a member of the Board of Scholars at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and a member of the board of trustees of the Buckeye Institute.

His book Unfree Speech was cited in the Supreme Court's majority opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that corporations have a right to spend money in candidate elections. Smith's Center for Competitive Politics was co-counsel for plaintiffs in v. Federal Election Commission, a 2010 Court of Appeals case that created Super PACs.

In 2010, The New York Times called Smith the "intellectual powerhouse" behind the movement to deregulate campaign finance. . In 2012, conservative Commentary magazine called him "the single most important voice in the fight to roll back restrictions on political speech." 

In May 2010, Smith was one of four winners of that year's Bradley Prize, awarded annually by the right wing Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, "to innovative thinkers and practitioners whose achievements strengthen the legacy of the Bradley brothers."

Smith is a board member of American Edge, a lobbying group for the technology industry . He has long been active in the Federalist Society.

David Van Slyke: Dean, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs of private Syracuse University is number six. The university lists his specializations as “Public and nonprofit management, government contracting, public-private partnerships, policy implementation, strategic management,” not exactly citizenship and public affairs. He is a frequent co-author with Trevor Brown, the dean of the OSU Glenn School of Public Policy where the new center is housed.

Number seven is Jean Yarbrough, Gary M. Pendy Sr. Professor of Social Sciences at small private liberal arts Bowdoin University. She is the author of American Virtues: Thomas Jefferson on the Character of a Free People and editor of The Essential Jefferson. As part of a "We the People" initiative, she researched Theodore Roosevelt and the American Political Tradition. She recently completed a Senate-confirmed, Trump appointment to the National Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In 2021, Yarbrough was awarded the Claremont Institute’s Henry Salvatori Prize for her scholarly work and public service in upholding the principles of the American Founding.

Announcement of that award prompted a highly unusual public request in the Bowdoin University student newspaper. Colter Adams , Class of 2024, movingly urged, “Professor Yarbrough should turn down the Salvatori Prize” (Feb. 11, 2023):

The Claremont Institute presents the Henry Salvatori Prize each year to an Individual “who has distinguished himself or herself by an understanding of, and actions taken to, preserve and foster the principles upon which the United States was built.”

In December 2021, Professor Jean Yarbrough received the prize. As a professor of government at the College, she has a duty to turn it down.

The Claremont Institute, with a stated goal of “saving Western civilization,” is no run-of-the-mill conservative think tank. It is a powerfully positioned, suit-and-tie insurgency movement, bent on undermining democratic institutions in service of an uncompromising reactionary agenda.

The organization champions “counter-revolution,” based on the premise that America’s founding principles only exist today in the “hearts and minds of a minority of citizens.” This extreme outlook is on regular and proud display by the institute.

Claremont Institute President, Ryan Williams claimed in an interview with the Atlantic that the Constitution is fit for only “a majority Christian people.” In an article published in Claremont’s publication, “American Mind,” Senior Fellow Glenn Ellmers stated that “most people living in the United States are not Americans in any meaningful sense of the term.” The Institute also collaborated on a pre-election report that currently serves as an instruction manual for rounding up activists in opposition to their politics and reinstalling former President Trump for another term.

These positions are not just antithetical, but offensive to Bowdoin’s stated mission to create a “moral environment, free of fear and intimidation … where differences can flourish.” They also contradict Bowdoin’s commitment to “prepare students to engage thoughtfully and with effect in civic life,” which President Rose highlighted in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection. It is inappropriate for the College to celebrate recognition by such a reprehensible organization.

Professor Yarbrough’s conservatism is rooted in decades of principled and intellectually rigorous study of American Political Theory. She is revered by Bowdoin students as a brilliant, dynamic and open-minded professor, willing to engage with ideas across the political spectrum. Her association with Claremont undermines this reputation, and provides academic cover for a menagerie of far-right conspiracy theorists and insurrection apologists.

Yarbrough ignored the student’s powerful plea.

Chase Center academic council members are charged with conducting a nationwide search for the executive director of the Chase Center. They will recommend finalists to Ohio State's president, with final approval by the Board of Trustees.

The executive director will be responsible for the operational structure of the center, overseeing hiring and appointment of faculty to the center. Once officially opened, the center will have at least 15 faculty members.

There is no information about the anti-diversity center’s relationship to OSU departments, faculty, or students, or curricula. How independent is “independent”?

Founding dean of Glenn College, Trevor Brown, exaggerates and sloganeers contradictorily:

We are excited to create an academic center of the highest caliber in teaching, research and engagement on U.S. civics, culture and society. The first members of the Chase Center academic council are academic leaders of the highest caliber in research and scholarship. Ohio State is committed to free speech, civil discourse, critical thinking and intellectual diversity on our campuses. The Chase Center will be a focal point for advancing these values and our land-grant educational mission.”

There will be no surprises, I am certain.

See my essays for background and details.


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History at The Ohio State University and inaugural Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies. Author of many books, most recently he published Searching for Literacy: The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies. My Life with Literacy: The Continuing Education of a Historian. The Intersections of the Personal, the Political, the Academic, and Place is forthcoming. “Reconstructing the new ‘uni-versity’ from the ashes of the ‘multi- and mega-versity’” is in progress.