Two Democratic lawmakers hope to repeal a law approved earlier this year that requires surveys of college and university professors “to assess the status of intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on campus.
The State University System recently began working on the precise wording of that survey. The GOP-backed legislation (HB 233) also blocks the state Board of Education and Board of Governors from shielding students and employees and colleges and universities from controversial speech or ideas protected by the First Amendment. Now, Sen. Tina Polsky and Rep. Yvonne Hinson are seeking to repeal that law, which was approved during the 2021 Legislative Session and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in June.
Republicans who supported the measure, such as 2021 bill sponsors Sen. Ray Rodrigues and Rep. Spencer Roach, argue higher education institutions lean left and are hostile to conservative viewpoints. By putting these measures in place, supporters argue, conservatives will have a greater seat at the table and introduce students to a wider diversity of thought.
Democrats, however, argue the bill is aimed at targeting and potentially chilling liberals’ free speech. They argue last year’s bill was an unnecessary push fueled by culture war grievances and will only succeed in stopping certain progressive viewpoints from being discussed on college and university campuses.
“HB233 represents a whole-scale assault on higher education and the freedom of individual thought in Florida,” Hinson said in a written release Thursday.
“It puts unjust restrictions on the great colleges and universities within our state, recently exemplified by the University of Florida’s denial of the three political science professors to consult and testify as experts on voting rights. We cannot allow such a bill to inhibit individual freedoms. We must remove these impediments and allow our higher education system to operate in a way that protects free speech and promotes true intellectual freedom.”
Last year’s GOP-backed bill passed easily in the House, though earned more narrow support in the Senate. But with Republicans remaining in control of the Legislature, it’s unlikely the new bills will gain much traction.
Polsky has tussled with DeSantis in recent weeks after his Surgeon General pick, Joseph Ladapo, refused to wear a mask while in Polsky’s office. Polsky was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in August, and the meeting occurred shortly before Polsky was set to begin radiation therapy.
Polsky joined other Democrats in calling for Ladapo’s appointment to be pulled, and she’s now directly targeting a component of Republicans’ 2021 legislative agenda.
“I strongly opposed HB 233 last session because I believe in the merits of intellectual freedom and the free exchange and debate of ideas originating in our universities.,” Polsky said Thursday. “Throughout our history institutions of higher learning have served as incubators of innovation, making our country the great nation it is today. HB 233 would subjugate these fine institutions in our state to the whims of ideology.”