Professor: 'Only the brave and foolish' will teach about race, ethnicity if bill passes.

Timothy Messer-Kruse
Guest columnist

The Ohio Legislature is poised to destroy my academic discipline.

I was recruited by Bowling Green State University to be a professor of ethnic studies. I’ve taught cultural diversity courses to thousands of students.

It appears likely that House Bill 327 will be passed soon.

The bill defines seven ideas that cannot be “advocated, acted upon, or promoted” by any public college or university.

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Many of these ideas are commonsensical: no one should teach that “individuals of any race…are inherently superior or inferior” — indeed, ethnic studies was founded to fight just such ideas.

Timothy Messer-Kruse is a professor of ethnic studies at Bowling Green State University.

But other prohibited concepts are so broad they encompass well-established fields of research and debate.

To ban teaching that “an individual… is unconsciously” racist runs counter to much psychological research into cognitive bias.

To ban the debating whether “individuals should be adversely or advantageously treated … on the basis of their race” effectively outlaws research into remedies for racism. To ban saying that “any individual cannot succeed … because of the individual's race” will make it hard to explain why so many slaves were illiterate and so few were wealthy.

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As the law requires each university’s board of trustees to revise tenure policies to enforce this law’s prohibitions and because the law does not provide clear guidance to professors about what constitutes a violation, many talented faculty will simply elect to not teach any topic even remotely related to prohibited concepts.

Ohio GOP lawmakers seek to ban critical race theory teaching with House Bill 327.

Administrators, among the most risk-averse people in the known universe, will err on the side of canceling programs and courses. Only the brave and the foolish will teach ethnic studies in Ohio in the future.

House Bill 327 defines promoting a concept to be either of two things. The first is not something any competent educator does: “indoctrination, coercion, compulsion, or teaching an individual or group of individuals to accept a set of beliefs in a one-sided, biased, and uncritical manner.”

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The bill’s other definition reads like the essay of a freshman who didn’t do the reading but picked up one or two buzzwords from lecture: “Inculcating ideas, attitudes, beliefs, and cognitive strategies during the transfer of cultural traditions from one generation to the next with the expectation that such traditions will not be questioned but practiced in the future.”

So-called critical race theory ban bills are make their way through Ohio's Statehouse.

Such garbled wording makes for a bad law in any case, but the bill is far worse because it then proceeds to disregard the term it tried to define by substituting others. In later sections, the bill uses the words “support” and “advocate” without defining either of them.

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By employing terms that are not legally defined, they are left open; their meanings can be stretched to meet a wide range of circumstances.

Such untethered language is dangerous as it blurs lines and many will take the safer road of avoiding the whole subject.

Apparently aware that their bill will chill free thought, legislators included a list of topics that professors may discuss “in an objective manner and without endorsement.”

These include “the history of an ethnic group,” “controversial aspects of history,” “historical oppression,” and the “civil rights movement.”

More:Parents want kids to learn about ongoing effects of slavery – but not critical race theory. They're the same thing.

While seeming to carve out exceptions to its prohibited concepts, this sets a trap for the unsuspecting educator. Legally, what appear here to be permissions are actually contingent on some authority’s judgment that the lesson was “objective” and without “endorsement,” a vague matter in the best of cases.

Again, the wary teacher will just steer clear of any of these rocks rather than allow others to decide if they have strayed too closely.

In a rare moment of awareness of the bills' own contradictions, legislators added one additional exception to the thoughts it outlawed: it permitted “the promotion of American nationalism.”

One may wonder why the GOP had to grant permission to be patriotic. Ironically, one of their prohibited concepts is the idea that “individuals of any…national origin are inherently superior or Inferior.”

More:Teaching kids to hate America? Republicans want ‘critical race theory’ out of schools

Someone apparently realized this outlawed proclaiming that America is the greatest nation on earth.

Timothy Messer-Kruse is a professor of ethnic studies at Bowling Green State University.