There's an oil barge winding through the Ohio Legislature.
The Ohio state Legislature is taking its own shot at eliminating all the liberal indoctrination Republicans are certain is running amok in universities, with a bill that not only prohibits most diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and "implicit bias" training, but also requires that instructors not promote any particular view on any "controversial topic" like climate change, diversity, abortion, or foreign policy, among others. The bill has already passed in the state Senate, and is now being considered in the state House, which has a Republican supermajority. The official title of Senate Bill 83 is the "Higher Education Enhancement Act," but I'm just going to call it the Flat Earth Equal Time Act if you don't mind.
For all "controversial "topics, instructors would be required to "allow and encourage students to reach their own conclusions" and "shall not seek to inculcate any social, political, or religious point of view." Should be fun when a student sues to have openly white supremacist materials included in a syllabus. Or an oil company sues over climate science being taught accurately.
When he introduced SB 83 in March, state Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Did We Have To Say?) explained that
it was his idea to include climate change as a “controversial” belief or policy, and that he “didn’t actually consult with climate people.”.
“My agenda was not to use this bill to impact energy policy,” Cirino said. However, he also said, “What I think is controversial is different views that exist out there about the extent of the climate change and the solutions to try to alter climate change.”
So yeah, that translates to "let's not actually limit greenhouse emissions, because as the copyrighted 2009 cartoon by Joel Pett in USA Today asked, 'What if it's a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?'"
Naturally enough, actual scientists are aghast at the bill, pointing out that there really is no "other side" to the fact that humans have caused global warming by burning fossil fuels, which add carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, causing dangerous heating of the planet. There also isn't any actual controversy over what's needed: We need to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions — and eliminate them altogether — as quickly as possible.
There are plenty of discussions about the best way to achieve that goal, which we suppose may fit Cirino's suggestion that there's "controversy" over "the solutions to try to alter climate change," but not a single one of the options includes "keep burning coal and oil." Really!
Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, warned that if the law is enacted, it's "going to have a chilling effect" on science education, since many instructors might decide it's safer to not say much about climate change at all if they think they have to include climate denial nonsense and "alternative" views. Jeez, you scientists, isn't some chilling exactly what we need to counteract all this warming?
The bill's language is particularly vague and circular when it comes to even defining what topics are "controversial" and in need of both-sidesing in classes. It specifies some, but the language is very open-ended:
"Controversial belief or policy" means any belief or policy that is the subject of political controversy, including issues such as climate policies, electoral politics, foreign policy, diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, immigration policy, marriage, or abortion.
Got it? A controversial topic is any topic that "is the subject of political controversy," so tread carefully and include all sides. Including, we guess, advocacy of plural marriage and mandatory abortion? And of course, many evangelicals consider evolution controversial, so Ohio biology curricula could be in for a surprise.
Hilariously, though, another provision of the bill makes clear that some "foreign policy" matters should have only one side, since it limits a wide range of cooperative agreements with China, and specifies that Ohio universities "may endorse the congress of the United States when it establishes a state of armed hostility against a foreign power."
Another section of the bill shoehorns in the now-familiar cookie-cutter prohibitions on "divisive concepts" that must not be taught, like the very ideas of inherent bias, white privilege, or systemic racism.
Previously In The Syllabus:
The bill's multi-pronged attack on diversity, equity, equity, and inclusion also led to widespread condemnation, obviously, because most university faculty, students, and officials aren't consumers of rightwing media who are worried about the Great Replacement conspiracy theory.
That said, Dayton TV station WKRC did manage to scrape up one professor at the University of Cincinnati, criminologist John Paul Wright, who fretted about the school's diversity and inclusion webpage, and who claimed he heard a colleague say they "will never hire another white male." Dude is a proponent of some seriously racist "science," and has called for more research on "the role biology plays in criminal behavior." I'd say that this guy and his calipers account for all the "intellectual diversity" Ohio universities can stand, honestly.
Shortly before the Ohio Senate passed it, The Board of Trustees of The Ohio State University officially opposed SB 83, stating that it raised First Amendment issues and warning that it could harm the university's ability to "attract the best students, faculty, and researchers." It further said the bill could affect "the quality of higher education at all Ohio public universities," even the ones that don't insist on having a capitalized definite article in their names.
During debate on the bill, however, Cirino insisted Ohio wouldn't experience any such brain drain, and would actually make Ohio schools more gooder by attracting ... well, people with calipers, basically:
“When all is said and done here, our universities are going to be better,” he said. “We are going to attract more people who have been turned away because of the liberal bias that is incontrovertible in our institutions in Ohio.”
In addition to the gross limitations on academic freedom, which are lawsuit bait if we ever saw it, just like Ron DeSantis's "Stop WOKE" law, SB 83 would ban strikes by academic workers, require all students to take a course in American history of government — presumably, only the GOOD parts — cut the terms of university and college boards of trustees so they can be replaced by patriots, and would weaken tenure protections.
And if it passes in the state House, will GOP Governor Mike DeWine sign it? How's this for some impressive waffling? Earlier this month, before it passed in the Senate, DeWine simply said it was still "a work in progress" and that "I have not seen the latest version." Sounds to us like he wants to follow the spirit of the bill and not take any particular position at all. We'd like to hope the near-universal condemnation of the bill, which will dumb down another great university system, might put his feet to the fire — as long as it's burning green hydrogen, of course.
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He is suing over 'emotional turmoil.'
Last month, you may or may not know, was Confederate History Month in Florida. Manatee Middle School social studies teacher Jonathan Papanikolaou thought he would celebrate the occasion by imposing a bizarre homemade pro-Confederacy video on his students during the morning announcements.
“Good morning, Hurricanes. This is Mr. Papanikolaou. If you didn’t know, April is an officially celebrated month here in the state of Florida named Confederate History Month,” the teacher explained in the video first obtained by ABC7. “Every year our state celebrates and memorializes that valiant, brave fight and the countless sacrifices by our men and women during that known as the Civil War, but may be more correctly titled the War To Prevent Southern Independence.”
I assume the "our" comes from his mother's side, given that there were only about six Greek guys in the entire Confederate Army. Either that or, like most Greeks, his family didn't even emigrate here until at least 25 years after the Civil War ended and he's just the kind of guy who is really pro-Confederacy without having any kind of ancestral dog in that hunt.
But wait, it gets worse! He also explained that the war was fought over “slaves and property rights, over taxation and a variety of violations of state’s rights and sovereignty.”
Christine Cooper, a parent whose daughter goes to to the school but is not in Papanikolaou's class, was particularly taken aback by that last one, telling ABC7 that “Personally, as a parent, the words stuck in my head that made me go, ‘Wait a minute’ was slavery and property rights. It was the right to own property and that property happened to be human beings.”
Not that this needs to be said, but the "state's rights" and "sovereignty" at issue during the Civil War was "the state's right and sovereignty to allow people to own other human beings." Which is not a right they should have. Of course, that Papanikolaou actually said the "slaves" part out loud we think might be illegal under current Florida law. He probably didn't get the memo.
The whole thing was pretty appalling and Papanikolaou ended up being investigated by the school after Cooper and other parents and community members complained. The school, being a Florida school, decided that he did nothing wrong by showing the video and that no disciplinary action would be brought against him.
But now, Papanikolaou is filing a countersuit against the school, claiming that the investigation itself (rather than the fact that he showed a video extolling the virtues of the Confederacy) made people think he is racist.
Via ABC 7:
“The environment caused by the district’s handling of this matter has created a hostile work environment and disrupted the student’s mental psyche and their receptiveness attitude to learn,” Papnikolaou said in the complaint. “I have received questions from staff and students as to why I support slavery and why I am a racist, which has caused me grief and awkwardness in classroom and school exchanges.”
He also said that some students are no longer comfortable being in his class.
“I was also informed through students that a colleague in my school has been “turning” other students against me, as several students now say they are “uncomfortable” to be in my classroom,” he said. “This situation has created emotional turmoil for myself.”
Emotional turmoil. Can you imagine?
An easy way to avoid the "emotional turmoil" of kids not wanting to be in his class or his colleagues thinking he is racist probably would have been to not make and show a whole video about how Confederate soldiers valiantly sacrificed their lives so that some people could continue owning other people. That might have been a good tactic. People don't usually need a whole investigation to come to the conclusion that anyone using terms like the "War To Prevent Southern Independence" — a fun permutation on the "War of Northern Aggression" I hadn't heard before; always be learning! — might just be super racist.
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Signs a boatload of bad bills, is bad.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has had a busy week, signing several bills that will further encrappen the state and make life miserable for LGBTQ folks, all in the hope that he'll prove himself authoritarian enough to appeal to Republican primary voters next year. He's been traveling across America's Dangling Appendage signing bills restricting people's freedom while claiming that Florida is the home of freedom, as long as you're a rightwing evangelical. (We think we'll just stop at "evangelical" from here on, since adding "Christian" to it just makes baby Jesus sad.)
Monday, DeSantis went to New College of Florida in Sarasota, the nice little liberal arts school he's ruining to turn into a rightwing indoctrination center, to sign several bills aimed at purifying Florida colleges and universities of "wokeness." It was his way of twisting the knife a bit, to remind the Liberal Elites who's in charge. Your fascists love that kind of symbolic humiliation shit, like how a former German corporal insisted in 1940 that France surrender in the same railroad car where the 1919 Armistice was signed.
But sometimes the vanquished just won't cooperate and admit they've been crushed, darn them. As Yr Wonkette noted Saturday, the official graduation speaker for New College's commencement was Dr. Scott Atlas, Donald Trump's Infect Everyone and Let God Sort 'Em Out COVID adviser, which was supposed to be a sick burn on the libs. Instead of going along, New College students scheduled their own commencement for tonight, and civil rights attorney Maya Wiley will deliver the keynote speech. It's as if those libs don't even know they've been owned. Sad!
We Don't Need No Education
As we say, DeSantis went to New College to ritually defile the corpse of his enemy, by signing bills that will further his goal of ramping up white grievance against higher education and nonexistent "liberal indoctrination." The biggie is Senate Bill 266, which defunds and prohibits "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion" (DEI) programs in higher education, because as we all know from racist memes, diversity is just code for white genocide. DeSantis kept a lid on the open racism and went for the respectable old dog whistle of "reverse racism" instead, saying,
"If you look at the way this has actually been implemented across the country, DEI is better viewed as standing for discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination. [...] And that has no place in our public institutions."
DeSantis proclaimed an end to diversity, crowing that "This bill says the whole experiment with DEI is coming to an end in the state of Florida. We are eliminating the DEI programs."
In addition, the bill also cracks down further on academic freedom, specifying that general education classes — the core of classes for all undergrads — may not "distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics," and must not be based on
theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.
Lasting effects of Jim Crow? Certainly not in Florida! America is perfect in Florida! A history prof could teach about redlining, presumably, as long as they don't suggest that it created a structural imbalance in how wealth is accumulated in the US, because it's just pure coincidence that some people inherited homes in neighborhoods that had restrictive covenants, while other people never saw such generational wealth transfer. Discrimination vanished after the Fair Housing Act in 1968, because it's right in the name of the law, and how dare you suggest that the playing field was never level?
The bill also demands that gen ed classes of all kinds emphasize "Western Civilization," the best civilization there is, and requires that humanities classes include works from the "Western" canon, although studying inferior books from less important cultures will be tolerated for now at least.
Other bills DeSantis signed Monday included House Bill 931, which prohibits colleges from requiring a "political loyalty test" — i.e., from committing to diversity or anything like it. It also requires that all "public policy events" include equal time for opposing views, which as far as we can tell means that if you have a Pride event you have to invite Matt Walsh.
Finally, another measure will weaken tenure protections for professors, who need to be kept in line with the threat of being fired if they get too mouthy about any of this.
'Don't Say Gay' On Steroids, And Worse
To mark yesterday's International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, which commemorates the World Health Organization's 1990 removal of LGBTQ+ identity from its list of "mental disorders" — Jesus H Christ on a Segway, it took that long! — DeSantis signed four anti-LGBTQ measures into law, ensuring that civil rights attorneys and activists will at least have a booming business for the next few years as they work to shut that shit down. Honestly, it's well past time that, instead of the Bugs Bunny gif, we instead force Florida back into the US of A and make it respect all its residents' rights.
Florida's state medical board last year adopted rules restricting gender-affirming care for trans youth. Yesterday, DeSantis made it a matter of law by signing Senate Bill 254, which prohibits puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgery for minors (as we always point out, gender-affirming surgery is already extremely rare for patients under 18).
As indy journalist Erin Reed notes, this one's far worse than the usual run of such bills, because it also bans nurse practitioners from providing any gender-affirming meds, which won't just deny care to minors but to adults, since according to Florida healthcare provider SPEKTRUM Health, up to 80 percent of gender-affirming care in Florida is provided by NPs. As Reed reports, this has already led to appointments being cancelled and people losing access to medication.
The bill became effective as soon as DeSantis signed it, and the Human Rights Campaign reports that parents who are already suing to block the state medical board's anti-trans measures are seeking an emergency order to block SB 254 immediately. Other lawsuits are certain to follow.
The wording of the bill states that if a cisgender person is in the bathroom with a transgender person, an employee can tell the transgender person to leave. Should the transgender person not leave immediately for any reason, they will be charged with criminal trespass, which can carry sentences of up to 1 year in jail. [...]
While the provisions do not ban all bathroom usage, they cast a wide net over an alarming number of locations that would fall under definitions of “public” in the bill. This includes all buildings owned or leased by any governmental entity, educational institutions spanning from elementary schools to private colleges and universities, numerous hospitals owned by universities, many sports arenas, convention centers, city parks, beaches, airports, and more.
The bill makes no exceptions for trans folk who have updated their gender status on official documents like birth certificates or drivers licenses, instead defining sex as a matter of chromosomes and genitalia, which opens the hellish possibility that people trying to relieve themselves in a stall with a locked door will be subjected to freaking medical investigations. It's also a no-win situation, as Reed notes, since
Transgender people who are androgenous or pass as their gender identity will likely be challenged in the bathroom of their birth sex. Those trans people will then be forced to undergo the same investigation into their gender. In essence, it amounts to a ban on bathrooms for transgender people entirely.
HB 1521 goes into effect on July 1 — avoiding Pride month, isn't that cute? — by which time the lawsuits challenging it may have made headway, we hope. If it isn't already enjoined by then, get ready for lots of pushback, too, from cisgender folks who are challenged by toilet vigilantes. Sadly, in Florida, those cases may get the most media attention, because oh no, the "wrong" people are being harmed.
DeSantis also signed HB 1069, which expands the already awful "Don't Say Gay" law to 12th grade, and will prohibit trans students from asking to please be addressed by their correct pronouns, as well as encouraging even more vicious censorship of books in classrooms and school libraries. It too becomes effective July 1. A final member of the shitshow quartet, SB 1438, expands Florida's "obscenity" laws to include drag shows; it's almost certain to be used to attack Pride parades. Reed notes it has "already led to cancellations of pride events, including the Treasure Coast Pride Parade."
All of the bills DeSantis signed this week are blatantly unconstitutional, so this might be a good time to donate, if you can, to groups like Lambda Legal, the Human Rights Campaign, or the ACLU of Florida. As the inevitable lawsuits against this fuckery ramp up, we'll bring you more information on how to help. As Yr Wonkette likes to point out when we discuss the climate crisis, things are pretty fucked, but we have the advantage of being on the right side. Americans do not want this crap, and there's a lot of mobilization to do — like the major federal lawsuit that's just been launched by Florida parents, PEN America, and Random House against school library censorship, about which we'll have more shortly.
Be an activist. Be an ally. Fight this shit with love and passion and smartassery (but don't mistake snark for activism, you in the back, there). This humbug shall not stand, man.
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