Florida to Survey Students on Viewpoint Diversity at Colleges

Florida to Survey Students on Viewpoint Diversity at Colleges
portrait of Anne Dennon
By Anne Dennon

Published on August 3, 2021

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has made a second parry on politics in schools.

After issuing a statewide ban on teaching critical race theory in public schools, DeSantis signed a bill affirming free speech on campus and requiring all state colleges and universities to conduct a yearly survey on "intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity."

The Florida bill defines "intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity" as "the exposure of students, faculty, and staff to, and the encouragement of their exploration of a variety of, ideological and political perspectives."

The governing board of the State University System of Florida will be tasked with selecting or creating an "objective, nonpartisan, and statistically valid survey" for students, professors, and staff. Results are to be published annually starting next September.

While the bill doesn't address how results should be used, DeSantis suggests that schools found to be "indoctrinating" students could face budget cuts.

A similar bill introduced in Florida in 2019 met with faculty opposition. Now, Florida is one of more than 10 conservative-leaning states considering legislation on free speech on campus.

In Indiana, a similar survey intends to ask students "whether free speech and academic freedom are recognized and fostered by the state educational institution."

In addition to the survey, the new Florida law allows students to record class lectures without a professor's consent, for their personal educational use or for use in a civil or criminal case against the institution.

Pushback to 'Unnecessary' Survey Plan

The American Academy of University Professors (AAUP) characterizes the bill as a "solution in search of a problem." The group says the recent legislation in Florida and other conservative states "are not only unnecessary but could also impose on institutions potentially costly and overly bureaucratic burdens."

AAUP says that colleges and college students are already strained by surveys, and the new one required by Florida law poses "obvious" dangers to personal privacy and freedom of association and belief.

Rather than add another survey to the mix, AAUP suggests Florida instead invest in tenure-track faculty, which protects faculty members' right to free expression. Among the three-fourths of faculty with short-term contracts, "those with controversial views, be they liberal or conservative, may find themselves increasingly vulnerable to political or ideological pressure, including from legislation like this."

The proposed survey may also be particularly vulnerable to participation bias. Students who think their viewpoints have been discriminated against are more likely to answer the survey.

Feature Image: Cliff Hawkins / Staff / Getty Images Sport

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