By Bill Pan
As part of Florida’s effort to promote “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” in higher education, public college and university students across the state are being asked, among other things, whether they feel comfortable expressing their opinions on campus without fear of retaliation.
A survey, developed by the State University System of Florida, was sent out on Monday to students and faculty via emails from their institutions. Emails attaching the survey say participation is voluntary, and that no personally identifiable information will be associated with the responses.
The survey contains 13 questions. The first 11 ask to what extent the respondent agrees or disagrees with various statements, such as “I feel comfortable speaking up and giving my views on controversial topics” and “I would be concerned if most of my professors or course instructors held the same political beliefs.”
The last two questions specifically asks respondents whether their professors generally lean liberal or conservative, and whether their institutions are generally more tolerant to liberal or conservative ideas and beliefs.
Meanwhile, faculty and staff are asked how much they agree or disagree with some different statements, such as “I rarely inject my own political ideas and beliefs into my classes,” and “Students in my classes are exposed to competing arguments and multiple perspectives on a topic.”
“It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you’d be exposed to a lot of different ideas,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said last June when he signed the law mandating the survey. “Unfortunately, now the norm is really these are more intellectually repressive environments.”
The law (pdf) states that public colleges and universities must compile and publish the survey results by Sept. 1 each year, but does not specify who will use that data for what purpose. However, DeSantis has indicated that state-funded institutions doing poorly in the survey could be at risk of budget cuts.
“We do not want them as basically hotbeds for stale ideology. That’s not worth tax dollars and that’s not something that we’re going to be supporting moving forward,” the Republic governor said.
The same law also allows Florida students to record video or audio of classroom lectures, so long it’s for their own personal educational use, or if they want to use the recording as evidence in a civil or criminal case against their school. However, a recorded lecture cannot be published without the consent of the lecturer, and those recordings must follow federal student privacy laws, or the professor could seek damages up to $200,000.
In addition, the law bans the use of so-called “safe spaces.” Specifically, it prohibits public universities in Florida from “shielding” students, faculty, and staff from any free speech activities conducted on campus, no matter how much they may find those ideas and opinions “uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable or offensive.”
The United Faculty of Florida, a union representing faculty at the Sunshine State’s universities, has encouraged students and employees to “ignore the unconstitutional survey.”
“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,” the Union said in a statement, arguing that many of the questions are “leading in nature.”
A spokesperson for DeSantis disagrees.
“They’re neutral surveys,” Bryan Griffin, the deputy press secretary at the governor’ office, said in a statement. “These surveys are designed to ensure viewpoints are NOT being suppressed in the classroom. This begs many questions about ardent resistance to the transparency that the surveys seek to promote.”