Spencer Roach’s bill to require ideological survey of professors clears final House committee

The legislation would also prohibit universities from denying controversial figures the right to speak on campuses.

Legislation calling for a survey of the ideological beliefs of Florida’s university and college professors is headed to the House floor.

The House Education and Employment Committee approved the legislation (HB 233) Wednesday in a 14-6 vote with a partisan split, with the exception of Democratic Rep. James Bush breaking from his party in favor of the bill. 

The proposal, filed by Republican state Rep. Spencer Roach, requires the State Board of Education to conduct an annual assessment on the viewpoint of college professors in order “to assess the status of intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity,” according to a provided analysis of the bill.

The Board of Governors would annually compile and publish the survey. 

The legislation comes as conservatives complain about a so-called liberal indoctrination of students.

“The only statutory requirements in this bill regarding the survey is that the survey be objective, that it be nonpartisan, and that it be statistically valid,” Roach said at the meeting.

The legislation also prohibits universities from denying controversial speakers the right to speak on campuses in an effort to combat what supporters of the bill describe as “cancel culture.” 

Under the bill, students would also be able to record classrooms at Florida’s public institutions of higher education without consent from a professor or presenter. The recording would only be allowed to be used for personal educational use, in connection with a complaint to the public institution where the recording was made, or as evidence in, or in preparation for, a criminal or civil proceeding.

Democrat Rep. Patricia Williams questioned the legislation’s potential to discourage students from participating in class discussions.

“Do you think by having a recording in the classroom it will prevent some students from actually voicing their opinion because of that?” she asked.

Roach responded that although there is no definite answer, he has not heard such concerns from professors who have previously allowed students to record them.

“This has been going on for a long time,” Roach responded. “And I haven’t received reports from any of the university professors that I’ve spoken to, those who are currently allowing recordings, have received reports that students have felt that it’s discouraging them from participating in the classroom.”

Williams continued questioning Roach, asking if the bill provides clarification on who is allowed to come as a guest speaker on campus, expressing concern that some controversial speakers may put students in harm’s way.

“It doesn’t get into who can or cannot come, but what the bill does seek to do is expose students to diverse ideas on campus, including those that are controversial, including those that may be a majority of students or faculty may hate,” he said. “This bill does not do anything to take away a university president or administration’s responsibility and ability to keep that campus safe. That’s not the intent of the bill.”

Williams later expressed concern at the meeting that the bill may further divide an already polarized country, adding flames to the fire by encouraging controversial speakers.

A Senate version of the bill (SB 264) filed by Sen. Ray Rodrigues is headed to its last committee and is expected to make it to the Senate floor.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected]


3 comments

  • Dan Guralnik

    March 19, 2021 at 9:37 am

    “The only statutory requirements in this bill regarding the survey is that the survey be objective, that it be nonpartisan, and that it be statistically valid,” Roach said at the meeting.
    As one of the people whose “viewpoints” might be surveyed, I wonder: What constitutional authority does the State of Florida have to demand speech? (Why is there no statutory requirement to make responding to the survey voluntary and anonymous?) What are the requirements on safeguarding the data? Who will be safeguarding the data? Will it be possible for the State of Florida to use my responses in decisions to fire, hire or promote?

    Rep. Roach: If these are not adequately answered then your bill reminds me of the good old times my parents had to endure back in Brezhnyev’s USSR.

  • Tom Joad

    March 19, 2021 at 1:23 pm

    We went through this already. It was called McCarthyism, and besides its most stringent proponents, Americans generally recognize it as a mistake and wrong. In a legislative session where our lawmakers could and should be prioritizing unemployment, the pandemic, vaccination, and support for struggling families, they’re pushing garbage like this and the anti-protest bill. Shame on the Republican Party of Florida.

  • Elizabeth Marsh

    March 19, 2021 at 8:31 pm

    And how do they plan to survey this? A Likert Scale ranging from Left of Lenin through Fascist to Trumpist? I anxiously await the survey.

Comments are closed.


#FlaPol

Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jason Delgado, Drew Dixon, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704