Sen. Ray Rodrigues for years in the House championed a plan to survey political values within Florida colleges and universities. After winning a favorable report from the Senate Appropriations Committee, it’s now for the first time headed to the Senate floor.
The Estero Republican said his legislation (SB 264) will guarantee academic freedom thrives and a diversity of views exist on Florida campuses.
“People want diversity; that’s been deeply ingrained in the field of higher education,” he said.
Rodrigues has pointed to similar surveys in other states that resulted in conservative visiting professorships. That’s helped combat a “cancel culture” on colleges that leaves many conservatives afraid to speak up.
“We need to know through objective data whether we have academic freedom and intellectual diversity,” Rodrigues said.
But critics of the bill, including college faculty across the state, said it will have a chilling effect on free speech.
Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Miami-Dade Democrat, said he found particularly troublesome the fact the legislation allows any students to video- and audio-record anything in the classroom.
Rodrigues said he has amended his bill this year to make clear students cannot widely publish recordings without the consent of all involved. But Pizzo said there’s no stopping students putting video on YouTube or other platforms.
“Some of these things can go viral,” he said.
United Faculty of Florida President Karen Morian said surveys in other states have cost upward of $100,000, despite Rodrigues’ assertion there’s a minimal cost. Moreover, she said by surveying students, that immediately calls into question the objectivity of responses.
“When you ask them, students are universally wrong about how they feel they are doing in class,” she said as an example. High performing students are frequently anxious about whether they are doing well, while underperforming students typically believe they are doing better than they are in reality. So how can students be trusted to judge the objectivity of faculty and whether ideas are being allowed equal expression?
An amendment presented before the Senate Appropriations Committee aligns the bill with companion legislation (HB 233), which was approved Thursday by the House. The amendment clarifies there is no expectation of privacy in the classroom.