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.