TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (TND) — Florida is requiring public universities in the state to "conduct an annual assessment of the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity at that institution," under state law HB 233.
The anonymous "intellectual-diversity" online surveys, which are voluntary, will ask college students and employees to rate their institutions' free speech climate.
Republican lawmakers passed a bill requiring the annual survey of political beliefs at public colleges because they were apparently motivated by the conservative belief higher education institutions favor liberal ideology, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education
It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you’d be exposed to a lot of different ideas,” Gov. Ron DeSantis reportedly said when he signed the bill into law. “Unfortunately, now the norm is really, these are more intellectually repressive environments.
The order has stirred up controversy and has reportedly prompted at least one lawsuit.
Copies of the surveys, one for students and another for faculty, have reportedly been obtained by The Chronicle of Higher Education and Tampa Bay Times.
The student version reportedly asked if professors "use class time to express their own social or political beliefs without objectively discussing opposing social or political beliefs."
Faculty are reportedly asked in their version if they "inject their own political ideas and beliefs" while instructing, and if they believe their political beliefs affect tenure, among other questions.
While the student version only has 20 questions, the faculty version reportedly has 24. The surveys also ask for information such as race, gender, political affiliation, and academic focus, according to obtained copies.
Plaintiffs suing over the surveys include the United Faculty of Florida (UFF) and the March for Our Lives Action Fund.
The state will frame any data collected from this survey, regardless of what it shows, as evidence that our profession indoctrinates students. I see no reason, then, for our faculty to willingly provide information for that purpose when the entire instrument was designed to hurt higher education in the first place," says United Faculty of Florida – Florida Gulf Coast University Chapter President Patrick Niner in a statement from the UFF.
We don’t need or want a return to the dark days of McCarthyism and the Johns Committee in Florida. Academic freedom, freedom of speech, and exposure to diverse perspectives in the classroom are core values for our campus community. Faculty do not welcome the interference of an explicitly partisan survey that infringes on our privacy and civil liberties," says United Faculty of Florida –University of North Florida Chapter President Nicholas de Villiers in a statement from the UFF.
An emergency request was filed to stop the "intellectual-diversity" surveys, but a federal judge denied the request in what he called a “truncated ruling” in order to allow opponents of the survey more time to appeal.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker did rule plaintiffs have standing for the moment, and they had raised "at least one cognizable theory" in which the survey mandate violated the First Amendment. Walker also gave plaintiffs more time to find evidence that proved the survey mandate was actually intended to discriminate against anyone.
In response to the judge's denial and the distribution of the surveys, the United Faculty of Florida called for everyone to simply ignore the surveys.
Florida's government has no right to know the thoughts, feelings, or political or religious beliefs of anyone, including the higher education community," the statement reads. "Privacy is the bedrock of democracy and a safeguard against autocratic control.
Ignoring the surveys will protect individuals "of all political persuasions," the UFF claims, adding the survey's demographic questions would allow for targeting of faculty and could therefore be used to attack the tenure of minority faculty.
Many of the survey's questions are leading in nature and imply that there is a problem of viewpoint fairness on our campuses already — this is a conclusion searching for evidence, rather than the other way around," UFF says in its statement.
The UFF ends its statement by saying surveillance efforts, such as the surveys, have no place in Florida's higher education system.
Andrew Gothard, the President of the United Faculty of Florida, went a step further and called the surveys an attempt at "authoritarianism."
At UFF, we fight for the rights of all Floridians, not merely those who agree with the political party in power. We believe that every American has the right to think, feel, and believe as they see fit," Gothard says, according to the UFF. "Living in Florida, under the influence of Governor DeSantis, does not abridge that right.
This survey is an attack on the fundamental rights of all Floridians, and it has no place in a state or society that claims to be free," Gothard continues. "The protections of the US Constitution are too important to cast aside for political expediency. We urge all Floridians to join us in our fight against authoritarianism in all its forms: Boycott this survey. It has no place in our democracy.