Does a new Florida law require state universities to monitor the beliefs of teachers and students? (Update) – Reason.com
“Florida government signs law requiring students and faculty to declare political beliefs,” headlines a headline. The hill. A story about the same legislation in the Tampa Bay Times has the heading: “Faculty of State Universities, Students Should Be Asked About Their Beliefs,” with the caption: “Governor Ron DeSantis has suggested that budget cuts could loom if universities and colleges were found to “indoctrinate” students. Will stancil warned the law represents “a government-led crackdown on crime of academic opinion.” It all sounds scary, but is that what the law does?
As always when we talk about laws, it helps to read the bill. Here is the text. The relevant provisions read as follows:
(b) The State Board of Education will require each institution in the Florida College System to conduct an annual assessment of intellectual freedom and diversity of viewpoints at that institution. The State Board of Education will select or create an objective, non-partisan, statistically valid survey for use by each institution, which will take into account the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented and the members of the academic community, including academics. students, faculty and staff. , feel free to express their beliefs and views on campus and in the classroom. The National Board of Education compiles and publishes the assessments annually by September 1 of each year, effective September 1, 2022. The National Board of Education may adopt rules to implement this paragraph.
(c) The State Board of Education cannot protect students, faculty, or staff at Florida College System institutions from the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, s. I of the State Constitution, or art. 1004,097.
The bill also provides for these definitions:
1. “Intellectual freedom and diversity of viewpoints” means exposing students, faculty and staff to, and encouraging their exploration of, a variety of ideological and political perspectives.
Parallel provisions apply to the Board of Governors of State Universities.
As the text above clearly indicates, the inquiry required is not an inquiry into the political beliefs of students and professors. Rather, the survey aims to measure “the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented” and the extent to which “members of the college community, including students, faculty and staff, feel free to express their beliefs and views on campus. and in the classroom. ”He does not ask students, faculty and staff for their views, but whether they feel free to express their views, whatever they may be. ” a survey of the academic environment, do not the political beliefs of members of the university community.
What would such a survey look like? It would probably be very similar to the Heterodox Academy Campus Expression Survey that many college campuses have administered to diagnose the openness of their campuses to a wide range of perspectives. . This is a good survey that measures the things campus administrators should already care about. My university administered it. The results were informative, revealing and helpful.
Can a survey include questions about the background or outlook of respondents for cross-referencing? Perhaps. Such information can be useful, as it could determine whether members of racial, ethnic or religious minority groups experience the educational environment differently, but this is not the objective or requirement of the law.
But what about comments from Governor DeSantis and supporters of the bill suggesting that the results could affect state funding? Should this be of concern? It depends. First, whatever politicians say they are doing, it is important to look at the law that is actually passed, as it is the law that controls, not the press statements or varying intentions of individual politicians.
Second, like it or not, state institutions are just that, State establishments. Therefore, it is perfectly appropriate for the legislature to exercise oversight to ensure that these institutions are fulfilling their objectives and that taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately. Surveys to determine whether educational institutions effectively educate students and provide open learning environments are highly compatible with such oversight. Indeed, such surveillance is a good thing, provided it is just that: surveillance and not control. By this standard, this Florida law is a responsible measure, unlike the various “anti-CRT” measures that some legislatures have adopted and political interventions in some universities to punish or exclude those with disadvantaged political views, such as this would have happened at university. from North Carolina.
If the polls called for in this bill facilitate genuine infringements of academic freedom, such infringements should be condemned. But the problem in such cases would be the actual attacks on academic freedom, not the effort to determine whether public educational institutions actually offer open learning environments. In recent years, we’ve seen political activists abuse open case laws to prosecute academics they don’t like. The problem in such cases was not the existence of open archives laws, but their misuse for political purposes. It would be the same here.
If a state university does not effectively educate students, discriminates against certain students, or otherwise fails in its educational mission, would the state government be wrong to take steps? measures ? I do not think so. As long as the state does not take measures that compromise academic freedom, there is no problem with the basic oversight and accountability of public institutions. (On the other hand, private institutions should be allowed to set their own policies and priorities, although any private university that does not protect and safeguard academic freedom is betraying its mission as a higher education institution. )
Those who warn of the threat this legislation poses to academic freedom are also unaware that it expressly reaffirms and expands the First Amendment rights of faculty and students, both in prohibiting blocking access to ideas. and First Amendment protected materials (noted above) and amending state law regarding protected expressive activities on campus, adding underlined language to the existing provision of Florida law:
Expressive activities protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and s. I of the State Constitution includes, without limitation, any legal oral or written communication of ideas, including all forms of peaceful assembly, protest and speech; distribute literature; wear signs; circulate petitions; research, lectures, writings and faculty comments, whether published or unpublished; and recording and posting, including posting on the Internet, of videos or sounds recorded in areas outside the campus.
Yes, this legislation really looks like a crackdown on academic freedom.
However, not all is welcome in this new legislation. One provision states that “a student may record videos or audio recordings of lectures for their personal educational use, as part of a complaint to the public higher education institution where the recording was made, or as evidence in, or in connection with, criminal or civil proceedings. A recorded lecture cannot be published without the consent of the speaker. This is potentially problematic. On the one hand, I understand the importance of making classroom videos available to students for educational purposes, especially students who may have a disability. Schools should find ways to meet these needs. (I have my lessons recorded for this purpose and placed on a site accessible only to current students.)
On the other hand, class participants (students in particular) should not have to worry that everything they say and do in class may be recorded for posterity and potentially broadcast. It’s good that the provision does not allow posting without the teacher’s consent, but what about other students who might be identifiable in the video? Shouldn’t their consent also count? As education is a collaborative endeavor, students should not have to worry that their classroom participation may be recorded and broadcast without their consent.
The bottom line is that the headline writers and Twitter commentators have grossly twisted this legislation and pilloried what is actually a good idea: State governments are ensuring that public higher education institutions offer open learning environments in which the full range of political and other opinions can be expressed. Indeed, it is regrettable that some universities do not already do this of their own accord, as they should recognize that providing such an environment is an integral part of their educational mission.
UPDATE: Joe Cohn of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (a fantastic group) comments on the legislation here.
I share his concerns about the video recording provisions more than the other provisions, and he sets out good reasons to be concerned about this part of the act. I am less moved by the rest.
Legislative language is never perfect, and keeping state legislatures at a level of absolute perfection when dealing with higher education would effectively prevent state legislatures from exercising control over educational institutions in the world. State (which are, after all, part of state government). It is untenable. As there are concerns about the potential scope of the definition of “shield,” I don’t think language prevents faculty members from maintaining order in the classroom or leading discussions in the classroom. class, but to the extent that there is a risk, I think it is the kind of problem that can be easily and adequately dealt with by the implementing regulations authorized by law.