Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. Credit: FAMU’s Facebook
An English professor from Pennsylvania State University took the stand Tuesday in federal court, arguing that students recording a professor’s lesson without the instructor’s consent threatens academic freedom in higher education.
Michael Bérubé, the professor on the stand, pointed to the part of Florida law which says that a recording can be used “in connection with a complaint to the public institution of higher education where the recording was made, or as evidence in, or in preparation for, a criminal or civil proceeding.”
“This fosters and promotes and assumes an adversarial relationship,” Bérubé said at the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida, in Tallahassee.
The remarks came on the second day of a federal trial on the controversial “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” survey that was approved in the 2021 Legislature. The bill was HB 233, which became law.
Bérubé, as well as other university faculty, are concerned that audio or video recordings of a professor’s lecture will be taken out of context and potentially used to negatively impact the professor’s teaching.
“It’s not a pedagogical enterprise,” he claimed.
He spoke as an expert witness in the federal lawsuit against Florida’s top state K-12 and higher education officials, including members of the Board of Education and the Board of Governors.
The survey was intended to provide “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.”
The plaintiffs challenging the law are a handful of Florida university faculty as well as the United Faculty of Florida, a statewide university faculty union.
That said, the statutes relating to the survey and recording classroom lectures apply to both community colleges and universities.
HB 233 has long drawn criticism from the higher education sphere, claiming that the surveys threaten to chill free speech and impede on First Amendment rights, among other concerns.
In addition, The Phoenix previously reported on potential security and validity issues when the survey was first distributed out to college and university staff and student in spring of 2022.
For universities, Florida A & M University, a historically Black college in Tallahassee, had the lowest response rate in the survey.
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