U.S. District Courthouse for the Northern District of Florida, Tallahassee. Credit: Michael Moline
An associate lecturer from the University of Central Florida criticized a Florida law that allows students to record lectures without permission of the instructor, saying that it makes him feel he’s a “criminal under suspicion.”
Barry Edwards, a plaintiff in a federal legal challenge of a law that includes the controversial classroom recording provision, among other concerns, took the stand Thursday at the federal trial.
Edwards instructs a multitude of courses related to American government, U.S. history and political science. But he says that provisions in the law makes him “extra cautious” of what he says in class, according to his testimony given to the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida.
He took part in the trial virtually over Zoom, and his testimony was broadcast to the federal court located in Tallahassee.
Edwards said that he feels “distrusted” by state government, and that the recording provision “feels very invasive and creepy and frightening.”
The concern from several professors who have given testimony in the trial comes from the idea that students can record lectures without the permission of instructors to be used either for personal education purposes or as part of a criminal or civil proceeding, potentially taking classroom discussion out of context for punitive reasons.
He, among other higher education instructors and a statewide university faculty union, are challenging state education officials in order to enjoin parts of the law that spurred from the 2021 Legislature. Critics say that the law could lead to chilled speech in the higher education and threaten academic freedom.
In addition, Edwards found issue with a state-implemented “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” survey that asks students and faculty about their political alignments and the perceived political leanings on college and university campuses.
The survey is also being challenged in the suit.
Edwards claims that he did not take the survey, which was distributed for the first time in the 2022 spring semester.
“I didn’t really like the idea of it,” Edwards told the court Thursday, citing an “obvious selection bias” and even called the questions of the survey “kind of garbage.”
His skepticism of the survey echoes expert testimony provided to the federal court late Wednesday evening.
Matthew Woessner is a Republican professor of Institutional Research at the United States Army College, located in Pennsylvania, and he has been researching whether a professor’s political leaning has an impact on a student’s political ideology for some time.
Wednesday evening, Woessner said that the survey was “badly designed” and that that he was “appalled by the surveys construction.” He called some of the wording of the questions that of an “amateur” and that the implantation of the survey was “plagued by bias.”
The Phoenix previously reported various concerns from the Florida higher education community when the survey went out to students and faculty, raising concerns of security and validity.
Ultimately, the response rate for the survey from both college and university campuses was very low.
He said that with the construction of the survey and the low response rate, the results of the survey were, in his view, “meaningless.”
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