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Florida orders universities to assess 'viewpoint diversity,' allows students to record professors

Ron DeSantis
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference about the opening of a COVID-19 vaccination site at the Hard Rock Stadium on January 06, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. |

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Tuesday to allow college students to submit recordings of their professors in class as evidence to universities for political bias complaints in a wave of education bills seeking to expand "intellectual freedom" and "viewpoint diversity" on college campuses. 

One bill, H.B. 233, orders the State Board of Education and the Board of Governors to assess "intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity" at public universities each year. The assessments should determine the "extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented" and whether students and staff "feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom."

“We want our universities to be focused on critical thinking and academic rigor," DeSantis said in a press conference this week at a middle school in Lee County. "We do not want them as, basically, hotbeds for stale ideology. That’s not worth tax dollars and not something we’re going to be supporting moving forward.”

The legislation, set to take effect July 1, passed the House 77 to 42 and the Senate 23 to 15. 

"The bottom line is that Florida wants to ensure that free inquiry, viewpoint diversity and civil discourse are thriving on Florida's college and university campuses," Florida Department of Education Interim Director Cheryl Etters told The Christian Post in an email. "This is required because freedom of speech is an essential building block of our freedom as Americans and our higher education institutions must champion it, rather than chip away at it." 

H.B. 233 will allow students to “record video or audio of class lectures for their own personal, educational use, in connection with a complaint to the public institution of higher education where the recording was made, or as evidence in, or in preparation for, a criminal or civil proceeding." Students must get permission to publish recordings of their professors. 

The bill also states that the State Board of Education "may not shield students, faculty, or staff at Florida College System institutions from free speech protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution."

“You have orthodoxies that are promoted, and other viewpoints are shunned or even suppressed," DeSantis said of universities. "We don’t want that in Florida – you need to have a true contest of ideas. Students should not be shielded from ideas, and we want robust First Amendment speech on our college and university campuses."

Etters assured CP, however, that the "state isn't rushing to snap judgments about Florida's public postsecondary institutions."

"The creation of this survey will require thoughtful and diligent work by the State Board of Education and Board of Governors," she said. 

"Like any survey, it would need a valid sample, but there is not an expectation that every Florida student or professor would even need to participate. In fact, The legislation requires that the survey be objective, nonpartisan, and statistically valid. Those requirements do not necessitate knowing the identity of the respondent, nor do they require everyone to participate."

Etters added that North Carolina adopted a Campus Free Speech law in 2017 after similar surveys in 2004, 2010 and 2016. 

University of Florida student Ophelie Jacobson told Fox News in a statement that “Floridians want to know they are funding institutions that live up to the standard of raising the next generation of open-minded leaders and thinkers, and right now, our state colleges and universities are not living up to that standard." 

Jacobson, who also serves as a correspondent for the conservative news outlet Campus Reform, said that her peers have "lost the ability to critically think and analyze different viewpoints because other viewpoints aren't there for them to analyze!"

"But thanks to Gov. DeSantis, intellectual diversity is making a comeback on campus,” she continued. “This annual assessment will be a true eye-opener for taxpayers, parents, and students."

DeSantis has taken various legislative steps in the public education realm in recent weeks.

The Republican governor also signed two other education bills on Tuesday.

H.B. 5 orders the state's Department of Education to create a new K-12 civic education curriculum that includes first-person testimonies of "victims of other nations' governing philosophies who can compare those philosophies with those of the United States." The curriculum is to have "comparative discussion" of political ideologies that "conflict with principles of freedom," like communism and totalitarianism.

"We have a number of people in Florida, particularly southern Florida, who’ve escaped totalitarian regimes, who’ve escaped communist dictatorships, to be able to come to America,” DeSantis said in a briefing in Fort Myers after signing the legislation, according to Fox News. 

“We want all students to understand … why would somebody flee across shark-infested waters … to come to southern Florida? Why would somebody leave a place like Vietnam? Why would be people leave these countries to risk their lives to be able to come here."

The third bill — SB 1101 — requires that state college and university students take a civic literacy course and civil literacy assessment as a graduation requirement. 

Earlier this month, Florida’s Board of Education banned the teaching of critical race theory in Florida schools, a theoretical construct that proposes that systemic racism could be embedded in American society. 

Earlier this month, DeSantis passed legislation requiring Florida public schools to offer a one-to-two-minute moment of silence at the beginning of each day for students to “reflect, pray as they see fit."

DeSantis, believed to be 2024 presidential hopeful, recently beat former President Donald Trump in a 2024 presidential straw poll at Western Conservative Summit, one of the largest annual gatherings of conservatives.

Controversy over public school curriculum and policies has been at the forefront lately, with clashes over critical race theory, sex education, mask mandates and transgender policy.

Emily Wood is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: emily.wood@christianpost.com

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