‘Intellectual diversity’ on college campuses measure heads to Governor’s desk

free speech zone
Are college campuses silencing conservatives?

The Legislature has passed a bill calling for a survey of the ideological beliefs of Florida’s university and college professors, and it is now heading to Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ desk.

The Republican-led Senate voted 23-15 Wednesday to pass the measure after minimal discussion. The chamber had given the bill its initial approval Thursday after lengthy debate.

That followed the House’s 77-42 vote last month.

The bill (HB 233), filed by Republican Rep. Spencer Roach, would require the state Board of Education to conduct an annual assessment on the viewpoints of college professors in order “to assess the status of intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity.” The Board of Governors would annually compile and publish the survey.

“That survey could shape whatever actions a university president may want to take or whatever action a future legislative body may want to take as a result of that survey,” Roach said during the House deliberations.

The legislation comes as conservatives complain about a so-called liberal indoctrination of students. But in discussions Thursday, Republican Sen. Ray Rodrigues, who is shepherding the legislation through the Senate, opposed assertions that the effort is political. He brushed off suggestions administration could use the survey results in malicious ways toward faculty.

“We’ve got a very long history of having political appointees in this position, and I have not seen any sentiment that they are abusing their positions for their own political purposes,” Rodrigues said.

Critics of the bill, including college faculty across the state, say it would have a chilling effect on free speech.

But conservatives argue it protects their speech, which they say is often suppressed.

Under the bill, school leadership also couldn’t “shield” students from all free speech protected under the First Amendment. State schools and governing bodies could not limit students’ access to ideas and opinions they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable or offensive.

The bill authorizes the recording of lectures without consent, but limits content for personal education, or in connection with a complaint or as evidence in a criminal or civil procedure. The recording can only be published with the lecturer’s consent. Doing so without consent could result in a lawsuit.

Initial versions of the legislation did not limit how it would be distributed, but the language shifted amid concerns from faculty about the value of the intellectual property contained in the lecture itself.

During the House vote, Democratic Rep. James Bush joined Republicans, except Rep. Rene Plasencia who voted no, in supporting the bill. In the Senate, Democratic Sen. Lori Berman voted yes while Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley voted no.

Berman spoke critically of the bill in committee and on the floor, and both Berman and Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes noted they intended to vote no after the fact. In the Legislature, votes can be changed after they have been initially cast. But even without those two votes, the bill would still pass with 21 out of 40 votes.

Rodrigues, who works at Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero, said he did not consult with university presidents about the bill.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


10 comments

  • Peter Milian

    April 7, 2021 at 3:57 pm

    I believe that our schools, universities and media have a very implicit bias towards a more leftist view of things in society. In a free society that is allowed, but should be examined and scrutinized. I don’t know enough details about the legislation, however, when professors teach classes they have a lot of discretion in what material to present and how to spin it. Young people can get very influenced by what is being said from either side. It’s important that students understand all sides of an issue and if this legislation promotes diversity of thought in our institutions, I am all for it. Just like universities work hard to make sure they have a diverse group of employees, having diverse employees with different views should also be considered so that students get a balanced education with the purpose of having them draw their own conclusions. All free speech should be protected on campus with intentional actions by leadership to promote diverse opinions and inclusion.

  • tom palmer

    April 8, 2021 at 12:27 am

    Sounds political and recalls shades of the infamous Johns Committee.
    Conservatives are always whining their views are being suppressed when often they are simply found wanting.

  • Ron Ogden

    April 8, 2021 at 3:24 am

    Free speech for everyone, simple as that. The only ones opposed are those whose ideology can’t stand the heat.

  • Bill Mattox

    April 8, 2021 at 7:48 am

    Everyone suffers when ideas are suppressed. Many progressive students at some of our nation’s most prestigious universities graduate ill-prepared for a world in which half the population votes Republican because they’ve rarely been challenged to consider conservative arguments or had to wrestle with alternative points of view. I’m glad FL is choosing a different course. Free expression and open inquiry foster academic progress. Viewpoint diversity is good for everyone on campus.

  • Michael Seaman

    April 9, 2021 at 9:32 am

    Yes, but what will they do with the information? We already know that the Academy is far to the left and too often indoctrinates students. Is there any plan outlining how to proceed when we have the data? Do they plan to institute an affirmative action-like plan to eliminate current radical professors or hire more non-leftist professors?

  • Concerned Citizen

    April 11, 2021 at 10:18 pm

    Politics aside (and this bill is completely political) this is bad for Democracy. Democracy doesn’t function by saying we give everyone equal say and the principle of ‘equal say and presenting both sides’ is completely bs. Look at it this way: When 99.9% of Scientists says climate change is real you don’t present ‘climate change is a hoax’ as an equal argument. The same is true for the anti-vax argument when 99% of medical doctors agree that vaccines are good. Look at it this way, it’s dumb to flip a coin to see if an elementary class should go to a theme park vs a museum if 29 people wanted to go to a theme park and only 1 wanted to go to a museum.

    • UF honor student (educated. republicans hate to see it)

      April 12, 2021 at 10:11 pm

      So agree. They just want more people to believe in their fake news because that’s the only way they can get voters.

  • Maximillian Layland

    April 12, 2021 at 7:02 pm

    This is a sad, sad extension of the deadly ideology that equates every opinion as equal to every other.

    The lack of trust in medical professionals or scientists or knowledge in general that we see in our nation is rooted in this, because everyone thinks that every point of view, no matter how ignorant or unfounded, MUST have its moment in the sun. This idea is killing discussion on issues from politics to basic human safety.

    Universities, if anywhere, should be the place where students are taught to identify and reject these unfounded ideas! The thought that a university should harbor diverse views is noble, but only if these views are founded in truth! For instance, while being taught by a professor who believes in white supremacy would certainly be a new experience, the viewpoints he or she operates from are antithetical to the ideals of education!

    A plan that does not discriminate on whether or not a viewpoint is rooted in fact but rather on what perceived political leaning it has is doomed to poison universities with arbitrary inclusion of unfounded ideology, not to mention polarization of fundamental knowledge!

    This idiotic plan to establish “intellectual diversity” would set Florida’s universities back. Intellect is diverse by nature — it must be! For only through the consideration of all the facts can any intellect be gained. I fear for the future of our schools if policies like this are implemented.

  • Matt

    April 13, 2021 at 8:05 am

    Will police officers be assessed for fascist leanings or ties to hate groups?

  • Kim Tingley

    April 15, 2021 at 11:37 am

    This bill came out of ALEC and is part of a nationwide push be conservatives. ALEC brought us “Stand Your Ground” laws and a myriad of other “model laws” that that would destroy our society. The story is not complete without understanding the greater context. Only by exposing ALEC can we de fang its efforts.
    https://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/Intellectual_Diversity_in_Higher_Education_Act_Exposed

Comments are closed.


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