FL Board of Governors gloss over low turnout on “intellectual freedom” survey

Concerns arise at board meeting about survey security and pending lawsuit

By: - August 26, 2022 4:40 pm

Florida State University on July 21, 2022. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

The miniscule response rate of an “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” survey — ditched by hundreds of thousands of students — received only a passing mention Friday from the Florida Board of Governors that oversees the public university system.

The board, which implemented the survey, discussed little about the draft survey findings at a virtual press conference Friday.

Marshall Criser III, chancellor of the state university system, summarized that more than 368,000 students were provided the survey but only 8,835 responded — a 2.4 percent rate. The employee survey was higher, at 9.4 percent.

“This was, to my knowledge, the first and the only time that the system has attempted to survey all of its students and employees in a survey document,” Criser said. “I really do appreciate a lot of the good help that we got, both from my staff and from the college system, being able to pull this together.”

The survey is a result of legislation passed during the 2021 legislative session, with the goal of selecting “an objective, nonpartisan, and statistically valid survey to be used by each state university which considers the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented and members of the university community, including students, faculty, and staff, feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.”

Criser said that the final results will be published before September 1.

Deanna Michael, an associate professor of higher education and policy at the University of South Florida, raised concerns about how the survey was conducted.

“For one thing, we are concerned about the security of the survey. And because we really, really want statistical relevance in the data, we would like to see that addressed in the future,” Michael said during the Friday virtual meeting. She also is vice chair of the Advisory Council of Faculty Senates within the Board of Governors.

“And also, the IRB process, this is the Institutional Review Board for this type of research. The processes at each university and at the colleges, we really would like to see that process followed with the survey,” she said.

“What we thought was going to happen with the survey is what happened,” Andrew Gothard, president of the United Faculty of Florida, told the Phoenix following the meeting. “That there was no attempt to find a representative sample the number of respondents. Whether we’re talking about students, staff, faculty — it’s not large enough to indicate any truth about what’s actually going on at Florida’s higher education campuses.”

UFF is currently still challenging the survey in a federal lawsuit, Gothard told the Phoenix.

“There’s just no trust in this survey. There’s no statistical validity to it. There was really no effort to make this a survey that could actually represent the viewpoints that are welcome and those that aren’t — as if there are any that aren’t on Florida higher education,” he said.

Gothard also criticized the program called SurveyMonkey as “not a highly-secure, verifiable survey method…this is asking everything from demographic questions to what people’s political beliefs are, or what they believe the political beliefs of others are.”

“Like, just going through SurveyMonkey and clicking a few buttons is not going to cut it. It would not cut it in any academic setting,” he said.

Aside from the survey, 0n Friday, the Board of Governors largely focused on implementing new university accreditation procedures.

According to a presentation from the virtual meeting, Florida universities have historically been accredited by a regional agency called the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The agency has handled universities located in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia.

According to the SACSCOC Frequently Asked Questions page: “Accreditation seeks to ensure constituents and the public that the quality and integrity of higher educational institutions meet acceptable levels of quality. These outcomes are achieved through rigorous internal and external peer review processes during which the institution is evaluated against a common set of standards.”

Federal laws changed in 2020 to allow regional accreditors to accredit universities outside of their region historic regions, according to Cristy England, vice chancellor of academic and student affairs.

Alan Levine, a board member, described the situation as providing universities with “terrific options of selecting an accreditor that is consistent with our goals and values as a system and their values and goals as an institution.”

The Board of Governors did not discuss other matters, such as the monkeypox outbreak in Florida.

Just Thursday, the White House held a virtual meeting with more than 1,000 college and university officials to discuss how to curb in monkeypox cases as university and college students return to campuses this fall.

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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.