In a push against so-called cancel culture, the Republican majority in the Florida Legislature is ready to pass legislation that would require public colleges and universities to survey students, faculty and staff about their beliefs and viewpoints.
The survey is part of a broader measure that would also bar university and college officials from limiting speech that “may be uncomfortable, disagreeable or offensive,” and would allow students to record lectures without consent to support a civil or criminal case against a higher-education institution.
The objective, according to the bill sponsors, is to protect the “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on state campuses. But university faculty members worry the proposal, House Bill 233, is likely to send a chilling effect on their freedom of speech.
“I worry that this bill will force a fearful self-consciousness that is not as much about learning and debate as about appearances and playing into an outside audience,” said Cathy Boehme, a researcher with the Florida Education Association.
Such legislation could also pave the way for politicians to meddle in, monitor and regulate speech on campus based on university survey results, Democratic lawmakers charge.
“Don’t you think it is dangerous for us to have all the data on personal opinions of university faculty and students?” Sen. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, asked during last week’s Senate floor session.
The answer was a resounding no from bill sponsor Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero.
“I don’t think that it’s dangerous,” Rodrigues said. “Other states that have gone down this road have actually found it educational and beneficial. I think that it would be educational and beneficial in the state of Florida as well.”
Florida’s higher education institutions could soon find out if that is the case.
Without debate, the bill passed the Florida Senate on Wednesday on a 23-15 vote. Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, and Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, abstained from voting and Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, was the lone Republican in the chamber who voted against the bill and with Democrats.
The bill now heads to the full House for final passage, and then to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.
What happens when the survey is done?
In House and Senate committee discussions, one of the main concerns was not so much about the survey, but about what would be done with the survey’s results.
“Could this information potentially be used to punish or reward colleges or universities? Might faculty be promoted or fired because of their political beliefs?” Berman wondered last week.
Rodrigues says the answer is no.
But the survey language under the bill lacks details that back that assertion. It offers no assurances that the survey’s answers will be anonymous, and there is no clarity on who will use the data and for what purpose.
The bill says the state university system’s Board of Governors and…