With a vote teed up in the Senate, the Florida Legislature appears ready to pass a controversial proposal that would require colleges and universities to conduct surveys gauging “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on campus.
The Senate on Thursday took up the House’s version of the measure (HB 233), which would lead to colleges and universities surveying students, faculty and staff members. The move positioned the Senate to take a final vote on the proposal, which the Republican-controlled House passed in a 77-42 party-line vote on March 18.
Under the proposal, the state university system’s Board of Governors and the State Board of Education would be required to create an “objective, nonpartisan and statistically valid survey.”
Senate sponsor Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, said Thursday the measure’s main objective is “asking the question.” Rodrigues said governing bodies that oversee colleges and universities would determine whether there is intellectual freedom on campus based on the survey results.
“Should those results come back, implying that there’s a lack of intellectual freedom or a lack of viewpoint diversity, and the administration says they’re fine with that, the market will decide whether that’s acceptable or unacceptable,” Rodrigues said.
The Senate could vote on the bill as soon as Wednesday.
During a debate last month, House sponsor Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, said future legislatures could “use that data as the basis to make a policy decision.”
The proposal also would prevent colleges and universities from “shielding” students, faculty and staff from any kind of speech. Opponents have argued the provision would allow groups like the Ku Klux Klan to come to campuses. Rodrigues and Roach have said the proposal would stop institutions from barring any group from speaking on campus.
The measure defines “shield” as limiting “access to, or observation of, ideas and opinions that they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive.”
Senate Democrats were united in opposing the bill Thursday, questioning whether the surveys would create a “political, ideological litmus test.”
“Don’t you think it’s dangerous for us to have all the data on personal opinions of university faculty and students?” asked Sen. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach.
“I do not think that’s dangerous. Other states that have gone down this road have actually found it educational and beneficial. I think that would be educational and beneficial in the state of Florida as well,” Rodrigues responded.
Democrats pressed Rodrigues on what could be done with survey data and whether the results could be wielded for political purposes. Members of the Board of Governors and State Board of Education are political appointees.
“I would say we’ve got a very long history of having political appointees in this position, and I have not seen any sentiment that they are abusing their positions for their own political purposes,” Rodriges said.
Like their House counterparts, Senate Democrats also took issue with part of the measure allowing students to make video and audio recordings of classroom lectures. That part of the proposal has sparked debate in previous committees over intellectual property rights of professors.
The measure, which has drawn objections from the United Faculty of Florida, would permit students to record 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.”
Rodrigues argued there currently is no uniform rule that addresses recording classroom lectures and that students already can make recordings on campus.
Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, asked if a minor student who is dual-enrolled at a high school and a college or university could be recorded under the measure.
“We have not made any specific allowances for the recording, or not recording, of minors on campus,” Rodrigues said.
Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, asked whether colleges and universities have requested conducting surveys.
“Are they the ones who have requested this survey be done?” Thurston asked.
“They have not requested the survey be done. That was my idea,” Rodrigues answered.
Rodrigues said the institutions also have not been involved in drafting the bill.
–Ryan Dailey, News Service of Florida