Paul Ortiz, a professor of history at the University of Florida, is a past recipient of the César E. Chávez Action and Commitment Award from the Florida Education Association, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division and 7th Special Forces Group, and the author of An African American and Latinx History of the United States, which received the 2018 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Award for Literary Excellence. He is also the University of Florida Chapter President of United Faculty of Florida, on whose behalf he sent the following letter last month to students at the university. Similar letters were sent to students on other campuses.
This coming week, the University of Florida will be joining other public institutions of higher learning in Florida in distributing an ideological viewpoint survey. This survey requests all faculty, staff, and students respond and share not only their own political and religious viewpoints, but what they perceive to be the viewpoints of their friends, colleagues, and classmates.
Many of you, both faculty union members as well as non-union faculty union members, have contacted me to express your concerns about this survey. As a third-generation US military veteran, I am disturbed at this latest example of creeping authoritarianism. As your chapter union president, I am glad to report that the United Faculty of Florida has worked together to draft the following statement on the so-called viewpoint diversity survey.
The United Faculty of Florida encourages all higher education faculty, staff, and students to ignore the voluntary “Viewpoint Discrimination” survey for the following reasons:
- Florida’s government has no right to know the thoughts, feelings, or political or religious beliefs of anyone, including the higher education community. Privacy is the bedrock of democracy and a safeguard against autocratic control.
- Ignoring this survey is an act that protects individuals of all political persuasions, now and into the future. This survey would not pass ‘validity tests’ in any institutional review process, as there is no way to ensure that responses will reflect the demographics of the institution. It is not worthy of time away from our teaching and research.
- The specificity of the survey’s demographic questions allows for targeting of faculty, particularly faculty of color, and can be used to attack tenure.
- Many of the survey’s questions are leading in nature and imply that there is a problem of viewpoint fairness on our campuses already–this is a conclusion searching for evidence, rather than the other way around.
- Many of the survey’s questions ask respondents to report on what they believe their colleagues and students think and how they are behaving on campus. Surveillance has no place in Florida’s higher education system.
- The survey will cause a chilling effect on freedom of speech and freedom of association on campus because faculty, staff, and students will be wondering whether their words and deeds will be reported to those in power.
- Governor DeSantis and other legislators have threatened to defund or otherwise punish campuses whose responses do not match the appropriate ideology. This is not a standard of leadership or behavior that any member of Florida’s higher education community should support.
For these reasons and more, UFF discourages participation in the survey, and we encourage you and all members of the Florida higher education system to join our fight to protect the freedoms of the faculty, staff, and students who make our campuses such wonderful places to live, learn, and grow.
UFF, your faculty union, has been fighting this law since it was first proposed. Now our fight is in federal court, and one of our main concerns has been that by its very nature this survey is an infringement upon the basic rights of all Floridians to freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the basic right to privacy, regardless of a person’s background or political persuasion and without intimidation from the political party currently in power. Join us! We are stronger together.
UFF-UF Chapter President
Professor of History, University of Florida