Courthouse for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. Credit: Michael Moline
A professor of education from UCLA in California criticized a controversial Florida survey that, in part, asks students to speculate on the political leanings of their college or university professors during testimony for a federal trial Tuesday.
“It’s one of the worst surveys I’ve seen,” Sylvia Hurtado told the court. The UCLA education professor virtually attended the hearing at the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee.
The survey in question is the so-called “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity survey” that was approved in the 2021 Florida Legislature and became law.
The goal of the survey, according to the law, is to measure “the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented” and whether people on college and university campuses “feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.”
But Hurtado criticized the survey for its leading questions and argued that while the questions appeared neutral, they were really “asking students to tattletale” on their college or university professors.
Hurtado also argued that the survey is not an effective tool to measure viewpoint diversity on campuses, as the questionnaire only offers “liberal,” “conservative,” “moderate” or “other,” as options for political leanings.
“This is not a viewpoint diversity survey,” she told the court.
The survey is only a part of the law that is being challenged in the ongoing federal court case.
Another provision being challenged allows students to record college and university lectures without the consent of the instructor. Another element to the law prohibits instructors from “shielding” students from ideas and discussions that they might find “offensive” or “uncomfortable.”
The plaintiffs in the law, a handful of university professors and a statewide university faculty union, argue that the law could chill the speech of professors and students and threatens academic freedom on college and university campuses.
The plaintiffs in the case are challenging Florida’s top state education officials, including education commissioners and members of the Board of Governors and Board of Education.
Students and staff took the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity survey in the spring of 2022.
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