Florida to require public university faculty, students to be surveyed on beliefs

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Tuesday that will require the Sunshine State’s public universities and colleges to survey students, faculty and staff about their beliefs to protect “intellectual diversity,” according to reports.

The education bill — which seeks to assess “viewpoint diversity” on college campuses — was one of three DeSantis signed that direct how civics is taught in Florida public schools and universities.

“We obviously want our universities to be focused on critical thinking, academic rigor,” DeSantis said during a news conference at Three Oaks Middle School in Fort Myers, the Naples Daily News reported.

 “We do not want them as basically hotbeds for stale ideology,” the governor added, as he continues his push against the “indoctrination” of students.

The survey will examine “the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented” in the state universities and colleges — and seeks to find whether students, faculty and staff “feel free to express beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom,” according to the bill, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

The measure – H.B. 233, which goes into effect July 1 — does not spell out what will be done with the survey results.

But DeSantis and bill sponsor Sen. Ray Rodrigues suggested that budget cuts could be imminent if universities and colleges are found to be “indoctrinating” students.

“That’s not worth tax dollars and that’s not something that we’re going to be supporting moving forward,” DeSantis, a front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination if he chooses to run, told reporters.

Faculty members have worried the bill may impact their freedom of speech, the news outlet reported.

Democratic lawmakers also have argued the measure might allow politicians to meddle in and regulate speech on campus.

But DeSantis said that’s not the intent behind the measure.

“It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you’d be exposed to a lot of different ideas,” he said. “Unfortunately, now the norm is, these are more intellectually repressive environments. You have orthodoxies that are promoted, and other viewpoints are shunned or even suppressed.”

DeSantis, who did not cite specific schools with this problem, used vague anecdotes to justify the need for such a survey — including saying he “knows a lot of parents” who are worried that their kids will be “indoctrinated” when they go off to college, and that universities are promoting “orthodoxies,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Officials at some major universities, including Florida State University and Florida International University, did not immediately respond to the paper’s requests for comment on DeSantis’ claims.

The University of Florida issued a statement that upheld the school as a “marketplace of ideas where a wide variety of opinions are expressed and independent inquiry and vigorous academic deliberation are valued.”

“We believe the survey will reflect that, and we look forward to widespread participation across campus,” it added.

According to the bill, a survey adopted by the State Board of Education or the Board of Governors of the State University System will be used to evaluate freedoms related to speech on college and university campuses.

The bill also prohibits schools from “shielding students, faculty, or staff from certain speech.”

Last week, the Florida Board of Education adopted new rules limiting the teaching of history with a primary focus on banning critical race theory and limiting other race-related discussions from classrooms.

The governor, who’s bashed CRT for months, spearheaded the effort to ban the academic approach to systemic racism that dates back more than four decades.

“We do not want curriculum that is judging students based on their race, and we do not want false history,” DeSantis said, according to the Naples Daily News. 

CRT views racism as systemic in societal structures, but critics say the concept forges a narrative that sows ethnic and racial divisions.

The state is one of more than a dozen across the US that have considered rules to prevent teachers from using critical race theory in their curriculums.

In a statement issued after the governor signed the bill, Progress Florida executive director Mark Ferrulo said DeSantis and GOP lawmakers are manufacturing “fake controversies.”

“Floridians still believe in an American Dream that celebrates the successes of our country without focusing on distractions that seek to divide us instead of allowing all students the freedom to learn and understand other cultures and experiences,” Ferrulo said, the paper reported.

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