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Ray Rodrigues’ intellectual diversity survey for public higher education passes first hurdle

The higher education analysis reform bill made headlines last year.

The second go at a bill to promote intellectual diversity on state college campuses passed its first hurdle Thursday.

Rep. Ray Rodrigues‘ bill (HB 613), which includes a controversial provision to survey students and faculty to measure a campus political leanings, passed the Higher Education & Career Readiness Subcommittee 10-4. All but one Democrat, Rep. Joe Casello, voted against advancing the measure.

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, and fellow Democratic Rep. Jennifer Webb said the bill had improved from last year but the survey was still enough to vote no. Webb said Colorado established a political survey recently, but lawmakers noted it did not yield the nuanced results they expected.

“Companies hire me to design surveys, and the quality of data that you get from a survey like this … wouldn’t be conducive to … the findings that you’re hoping to gain,” Webb said. “I think that having a robust, diverse college campus experience is very important, but — the tool and what we hope to accomplish are a mismatch.”

United Faculty of Florida FSU chapter president Matthew Lata said the union approved of most of the bill, but they reserved their approval because of the intellectual diversity portion. He added that campuses cannot compel students to take a survey because of the First Amendment.

“We think that’s highly problematic, and the devil is in the details. First of all, we don’t see how it can be non-partisan when the impetus behind it is fairly partisan; it’s based on a set of partisan assumptions about what happens on campus,” Lata said.

But in his closing, Rodrigues pushed back against Lata’s claim.

“I listened to an academic who’s never commissioned a poll or a survey tell 14 elected officials, who’ve won multiple campaigns and commissioned multiple polls and surveys, that you can’t commission an objective survey on something that’s political,” Rodrigues said. “The irony of that defies description.”

New from last session, the higher education analytics reform bill would erase the emerging preeminent state research university label and create state universities of distinction in its place. The measure would encourage schools to focus on differing departments so each has a unique specialization.

“What they would do is identify what is the program within their university that sets them apart, not just here in the state, but nationally as well, and then they would submit a funding request to the Board of Governors and say, ‘This is the program we’re pursuing that will set us apart. Here’s the funding we need to build this program up,’ so that it becomes the standard nationally,” Rodrigues said.

Lata also suggested that the Legislature should use different metrics to accommodate schools’ differing mission statements.

“One of the metrics being starting salary of graduates, if you’re graduating a whole bunch of engineers, they’re going to have higher salaries than a school that might focus more on graduating school teachers,” Lata said.

Some holdovers from last Session also appear in the bill, including revising performance data to be more timely, studying Pell Grant students’ 6-year graduation rates and studying college and university faculty to administrator ratio trends.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Rodrigues’ higher education bill from last Session (HB 839) but only after the Senate stripped the intellectual diversity provision.

“Ultimately I believe this’ll be something that’ll have to be negotiated out at the end,” Rodrigues said.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering the Texas House of Representatives for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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