Virus Outbreak Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures during a news conference Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute in Tampa, Fla.

(The Center Square) – Starting next year, Florida will require state universities and colleges to publish every September the results of annual surveys of professors’ political views “to assess the status of intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on state campuses.

“It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you would be exposed to a lot of different ideas,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday at Three Oaks Middle School in Ft. Myers, where he signed House Bill 233 and two other bills.

“Unfortunately,” continued DeSantis, flanked by Republican lawmakers, “now the norm is … more intellectually repressive environments. You have orthodoxies that are promoted and other viewpoints shunned, even suppressed. We don’t want that in Florida.”

Under HB 233, which passed the House March 18 in a partisan 77-42 vote and the Senate April 7 in an equally partisan 23-15 tally, the state Board of Education (BOE) and Board of Governors (BOG) must survey professors to ascertain “the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented” and determine if students, faculty and staff “feel free to express beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.”

The measure doesn’t specify what will be done with survey results although Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, a co-sponsor, said if professors are deemed to be “indoctrinating” students, they’ll be targeted through budget cuts.

“We do not want (universities/colleges) as basically hotbeds for stale ideology,” DeSantis said. “That’s not worth tax dollars, and that’s not something we’re going to be supporting going forward.”

Under HB 233, the BOE and BOG must create an “objective, nonpartisan, and statistically valid survey” of faculty viewpoints and bar campus officials from limiting “uncomfortable, disagreeable or offensive” speech. The bill allows students to record lectures without consent to provide “evidence” for civil or criminal suits.

As of Wednesday afternoon, only the University of Florida had responded with a statement that said its Gainesville campus is a “marketplace of ideas where a wide variety of opinions are expressed and independent inquiry and vigorous academic deliberation are valued. We believe the survey will reflect that, and we look forward to widespread participation across campus.”

In addition to HB 233, the governor signed Senate Bill 1108 and HB 5. Both are related to K-12 civics education and were adopted unanimously.

Under SB 1108, sponsored by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, colleges/universities must require a civic literacy course and assessment as a graduation requirement. High schoolers will also be tested on civics.

HB 5, sponsored by Rep. Ardian Zika, R-Land O' Lakes, revamps K-12 civics to include comparative discussions of political ideologies and lessons on the “evils of communism and totalitarianism.”

“As an American who began my journey as an immigrant, I’m a product of America’s exceptionalism,” said Zika, an immigrant from Kosovo. “Through the ‘Portraits in Patriotism Act,’ American stories like mine and many others’ will be shared with our students.”

The bill features a “Portraits in Patriotism Act” that provides a video library of first-person accounts from immigrants who lived under authoritarian regimes.

“No matter how many times you read something in a book, it just doesn’t come alive the same way when you’re sitting with someone or talking to them,” said House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.

“We have a number of people in Florida, particularly southern Florida, who’ve escaped totalitarian regimes, who’ve escaped communist dictatorships to come to America,” DeSantis said. “We want all students to understand the difference. Why would somebody flee across shark-infested waters, say, leaving from Cuba to come to southern Florida?”

DeSantis, a frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, aggressively lobbied the BOE on June 10 to ban “critical race theory” even though it’s not taught in Florida classrooms.