Ohio State Senator Jerry Cirino

Following a few months’ summer hibernation, after the super-majority Ohio legislative Republicans refused to include his anti-educational and unconstitutional SB83 in its 6000-page budget bill, right-wing State Senator from rural Kirtland, Jerry Cirino is back with a new vengeance, intellectual complications, and dishonesty.

Recipient of three degrees from vocational Lake Erie College including an honorary PhD from an institution that does not award doctoral degrees, Cirino is a challenged individual with no memory, limited literacy, and no understanding of higher education, American history, or either state or US Constitution. Undisturbed by calls from a colleague in the State House to “teach both sides of the Holocaust” and home schooling a 1930s German Nazi (not neo-Nazi) school curriculum, he fantasizes universities—especially public universities—that do not and have never existed. Cirino is an active threat to all 18-28 year olds. And to all residents of the state of Ohio.

Awakening from summer slumber, on Aug. 17, Cirino erupted in the unedited, unfact-checked, for sale Opinion pages of the Columbus Dispatch under the distracting and dishonest title “Senate Bill 83 ‘firestorm’ clouds fact that it will rein in college tuition costs.” Other than “firestorms” not actually “clouding,” SB 83 does nothing directly to “rein in college tuition costs.” That was never its intention. Cirino’s Hall of Shameful lies cracks from its weight.

The “firestorm” so to speak was, and is, over his fabricated and ignorant attack on Constitutionally guaranteed free speech of both faculty and students, legally established academic freedom, a genuinely broad and inclusive curriculum, and teaching actual documented American history and politics.

Cirino is lying baldly when he writes, “The main criticism, that it will curtail free speech on campus, is just plain wrong.” No, Jerry, that is factually correct. Has Cirino or his staff who write these screeds actually read SB83? Perhaps not; they copy its contents from rightwing legislators in Florida, Texas, Georgia, and Arkansas, sent to them on well-funded social media websites like ALEC. Readers can check for themselves.

Ignoring the First and Fourteenth Amendments among others on multiple issues, Cirino has apparently learned that he cannot legally prohibit Ohio universities’ staff from striking. But he persists in the dangerous error that he can forbid faculty from striking. (See “Staff as Ohio universities can strike but not faculty under new change sin higher ed bill,” Columbus Dispatch, Aug 20, 2023) This is against the law.

Cirino practices raw politics not truth, honesty, or lawfulness when he writes, “I am literally trying to rescue higher education in Ohio from itself.” What does that actually mean? When he continues will no evidence but only ideological bias, “They {persons unstated] have gone way too far to the left and, in the name of diversity, have buried real diversity.” Whatever does he mean? He does not know.

Let us be clear. Cirino attacks students’ right to learn, and professors’ right to teach. He has no conception or understanding of higher education. Cirino has neither learned nor grown up. But he has no right to prevent any others from doing so. That is illegal and inhumane.

Finally, knowing nothing about the fragility. Imprecisions, distortions, and limits of student ratings, Cirino proposes that faculty be assessed annually with a full 25% coming from questions such as whether—but not how or how successfully—faculty “created a classroom free from bias.” Defining those terms, constructing fair questions, and assessing the returns are huge tasks in themselves. Who will do that? The uneducated State Senator? No.

But Cirino is not interested. It is not education about which he is concerned. It is social and political control for starkly ideological purposes. That is the Ohio Way of the 2020s.


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History, Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies, and Academy Professor at The Ohio State University. 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.