Day 3 of testimony in trial: Surveys could be used to penalize left leaning profs and universities

By: - January 11, 2023 1:46 pm

Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton. Credit: FAU.

The president of Florida’s statewide university faculty union believes that results of a controversial survey measuring political viewpoint diversity on university campuses might be used to penalize institutions or professors that are perceived to be left leaning.

Andrew Gothard, who took the stand Wednesday in a federal trial, heads the United Faculty of Florida and UFF is a plaintiff in the federal challenge of what’s called the “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” survey. He also teaches at Florida Atlantic University, in southeast Florida, and is one of the public universities in the state.

The survey, which was approved in the 2021 Legislature and became law, is claimed to be a statewide measurement of how students and faculty can tolerate differing political viewpoints on college and university campuses.

But Gothard and UFF believe that the survey will be used in future attacks on college and university campuses for being deemed too “left leaning,” according to his testimony at the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida, in Tallahassee.

UFF are joined by a handful of university professors as plaintiffs challenging Florida’s top state education officials, including education commissioners and members of the Board of Governors and Board of Education. These two state agencies collectively oversee the state’s public universities and colleges.

J. Andrew Gothard, president of United Faculty of Florida. Credit: UFF.

Gothard said that the results would be used as “fodder” for state funds or other consequences if an institution is believed to be left leaning by state education officials or the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature.

There are other concerns about the security and validity of the survey results, the Phoenix previously reported.

Gothard, on the stand, said he worries that if the litigation does not favor UFF and the other plaintiffs, future implementations of the survey could be “much more invasive” or even compulsory.

That’s because, while the 2022 implementation of the intellectual freedom survey was completely voluntary, there was nothing in the law that says the survey had to be voluntary or even anonymous. And in fact, over the summer, the results of the surveys were published showing an abysmal response rate, the Florida Phoenix wrote — from both college students and university students.

Gothard also had concerns over the provision in the law that permits students to record lectures without instructors’ consent, either for personal education uses or potentially as part of an ” a criminal or civil proceeding,” according to Florida statute.

Gothard, as well as testimony given the day before, worries that discussions that go on in a university classroom would be “taken out of context and used as a part of an investigation or a complaint” to university advisors or in court challenges.

He believes that the recording provision “will lead to self-censorship and chill speech,” as instructors and students never know when someone else is recording in the classroom discussion.

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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.