Lawmakers approve surveys to measure “intellectual freedom” on campuses. But what does that entail?

By: - April 7, 2021 4:12 pm

College Hall at the New College of Florida in Sarasota. Credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Responding to concern that college campuses are suppressing intellectual freedom and conservative voices, the Florida Legislature has passed legislation requiring public colleges and universities to be surveyed to ensure that campuses are promoting “viewpoint diversity.”

The Florida Senate passed the measure by a 23 to 15 vote Wednesday. The House had done so earlier, allowing for lawmakers to send the bill to Gov. Ron DeSantis for consideration.

If DeSantis signs it, college campuses will be required to do an “objective, nonpartisan, and statistically valid” survey to ensure that students, faculty, and staff feel free to share their beliefs and viewpoints.

The measure is sponsored by Rep. Spencer Roach, a Republican who represents part of Lee County. Sen. Ray Rodrigues, another Republican who represents Lee County, sponsored a similar Senate bill.

The bill requires the State Board of Education, which oversees Florida’s college system, and the State Board of Governors, which oversees the university system, to create or select the survey that would measure “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on campuses.

The bill states that students should not be “shielded” from opinions they may find “uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive.”

But professors and others are worried that a survey will not be able to accurately measure these abstract concepts of intellectual freedom, and whether students are shielded from “disagreeable” positions. And it’s unclear how the survey will be implemented or what standards will be used to determine if a campus promotes intellectual freedom.

Some professors argue that campuses already encourage diverse discussion and challenge ideas, and that the survey might paint an untrue image of discourse on college campuses.

The Phoenix previously reported that the bill appears to be part of a push from Florida Republicans to campaign against “conservative censorship.”  Across the political spectrum, there’s been an assumption that the culture at institutions of higher education tend to lean towards liberal ideas.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.