College campuses now required to conduct annual surveys to measure “intellectual diversity”

By: - June 22, 2021 6:34 pm

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

Under the auspices of intellectual freedom, Florida’s universities and community colleges will be required to do an annual survey to ensure diverse views on campuses, including conservative opinions.

At issue is that some lawmakers believe that colleges and universities are liberal bastions and conservative voices have been suppressed on campuses.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 233 into law on Tuesday, implementing a survey that would be “objective, nonpartisan, and statistically valid,” according to language in the law.

“You need to have a true contest of ideas,” the governor said. He also said that “students should not be shielded from ideas.”

The legislation 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 a survey that would measure “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on campuses.

Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls, spoke at the Tuesday press conference and said that universities currently do not value “diversity of thought.”

“We are at great risk, as a nation and as a state, on the lack of intellectual diversity that is on our university campuses,” Sprowls said.

The surveys are to be published every year on Sept. 1 starting in 2022, according to the legislative language. But it’s not clear what these surveys will ask, how the surveys will measure intellectual diversity or what the Board of Education or the Board of Governors will do with the results.

Bob Holladay, adjunct history professor for Tallahassee Community College, is not sure if a survey will be able to fully capture whether a campus promotes a diversity of thoughts and political opinions.

“I suspect that that bill is going to depend on students or somebody complaining, and that’s problematic,” Holladay told the Phoenix. “Students complaining about a point of view that a teacher takes, for example, or whether a teacher allows a different point of view in class.”

Florida Watch, a progressive communications and research organization, called the legislation a “manufactured problem.”

“Once again, Governor Ron DeSantis is focusing on non-existent issues rather than confronting the real problems facing everyday Floridians following a deadly global pandemic and years of neglect from Republican leadership in our state,” Florida Watch Executive Director Josh Weierbach said in a written statement. “Instead, Governor DeSantis and Republicans in the Legislature spent this session targeting our public universities with partisan attacks and taking money out of the pockets of our citizens with tax increases to fund massive handouts to their corporate campaign donors.”

DeSantis also signed two other bills related to civics education at a public middle school in Fort Myers in Lee County.

HB 5, sponsored by Rep. Ardian Zika, a Republican who represents part of Pasco County, integrates civics education from kindergarten to 12th grade.

The legislation requires a high school U.S. government course to include comparative discussions of political ideologies that “conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy essential to the founding principles of the United States,” such as communism and totalitarianism.

It also adds “Portraits in Patriotism Act,” which provides first-hand accounts from people who “demonstrate civic-minded qualities, including first-person accounts of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies who can compare those philosophies with those of the United States.”

At the Tuesday press conference, DeSantis said that the “Portraits in Patriotism” portion of the legislation allows students to “learn from real patriots who came to this country after seeing the horrors of these communist regimes,” such as Cuba and Vietnam.

The third legislation DeSantis signed was HB 1108, which, among other things, provides providing a free college entrance exam, either the SAT or the ACT, to all Florida 11th graders at no cost to the student. This legislation also requires that post-secondary students demonstrate civic literacy through passing an assessment and taking a course on civic literacy in order to graduate.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.