Florida’s Campus Speech Law

Ron DeSantis and friends are afraid of higher education.

The Hill (“Florida Gov signs law requiring students, faculty be asked to declare their political beliefs“):

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Tuesday signed legislation mandating public colleges and universities survey students and faculty about their beliefs in an effort to promote intellectual diversity on campuses. 

“We obviously want our universities to be focused on critical thinking, academic rigor,” DeSantis said during a news conference Tuesday, according to the Naples Daily News

“We do not want them as basically hotbeds for stale ideology,” he said. 

“It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you’d be exposed to a lot of different ideas,” DeSantis said. “Unfortunately, now the norm is, these are more intellectually repressive environments,” he added. 

Under House Bill 233, surveys would be conducted annually on campuses to assess viewpoint diversity and intellectual freedom, and determine “the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented,” and whether students and faculty “feel free to express beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.” 

The Tampa Bay Times (“State university faculty, students to be surveyed on beliefs“) adds:

In his continued push against the “indoctrination” of students, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday signed legislation that will require public universities and colleges to survey students, faculty and staff about their beliefs and viewpoints to support “intellectual diversity.”

The survey will discern “the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented” in public universities and colleges, and seeks to find whether students, faculty and staff “feel free to express beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom,” according to the bill.

[…]

University faculty members have worried the new measure could create a chilling effect on their freedom of speech. Democratic lawmakers also have argued the bill might allow politicians to meddle in, monitor and regulate speech on campus in the future.

[…]

Officials at some of the state’s major universities, including Florida State University and Florida International University, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the governor’s claims.

The University of Florida issued a statement that upheld the Gainesville-based school as 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,” the statement said.

Aside from the sheer cartoonishness of DeSantis and his Republican colleagues in this matter, I’m more than a little surprised that university leaders are responding so meekly. This is a rather clear challenge to academic freedom and paired with a not-so-subtle threat to defund universities that don’t teach Trumpist and Fox News dogma (especially in conjunction with other provisions of the law).

Oddly, the survey, which is getting all the press attention, is only one tiny paragraph in the 12-page bill. And there’s nothing in there that obviously gives it teeth. Indeed, there’s noting that would seem to require anyone to actually take the survey—the school is simply required to administer it and compile results. Nor is there any obvious way to prevent mass pranking of the survey, with everyone answering as though they’re QAnon members.

Looking at the bill itself, the survey itself is not the most objectionable measure. In the very first substantive section, it declares “‘Intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity’ means the exposure of students, faculty, and staff to, and the encouragement of their exploration of, a variety of ideological and political perspectives.” And the next states that, “‘Shield’ means to limit students’, faculty members’, or staff members’ access to, or observation of, ideas and opinions that they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive.” It seems rather clear that they’re intending to force the teaching of ideas that lack scholarly backing and are giving license to those who wish to spew vitriol at LGBTQ students and faculty.

Later in the bill, they specifically allow the audio and/or video capture of any events on campus and the subsequent publication of any outdoor events on the Internet. This is an encouragement to harassment and a violation of academic norms that encourage the free exchange of ideas through non-attribution. What happens in the classroom stays in the classroom precisely so that professors and students feel safe in expressing their views.

There are good things in the bill. Most notably, it requires due process, including the presumption of innocence, for punitive measures for violations of any campus codes of conduct. Presumably, this is a reaction to speech and sexual misconduct codes that require the accused to prove themselves innocent.

FILED UNDER: Education, First Amendment, Higher Ed
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. SC_Birdflyte says:

    DeSantis is a Trump with brains. He knows this stands no chance of holding up in court, but his worshipers will have forgotten the entire business within a couple of weeks. Maybe we should look at imposing fines on any legislator who knowingly votes for, and any governor who signs, such a flaccid piece of performative governance.

    6
  2. Scott says:

    Nor is there any obvious way to prevent mass pranking of the survey, with everyone answering as though they’re QAnon members.

    This was my first thought. The Dan Crenshaw trolling of a stupid idea.

    The real pernicious action is the taping of professors and classrooms. This is a very dangerous trend. It is starting to show up at the public school level where it is suggested that public classroom teaching could be remotely monitored by anyone with the obvious result of carefully edited video being circulated.

    Someone in our district recently suggested that on Next Door and got pretty well roasted for the idea with a lot of parents basically saying they will never give permission for their children to be taped or monitored by creepy strangers.

    Of course, these are the “Freedom Lovers” who are proposing these efforts at political correctness.

    3
  3. Tim D. says:

    This is the central lie of this anti-cancel culture, anti-woke panic we’re in: purporting to “defend” free speech while taking actions to *actually* chill free speech of people they don’t like.

    95% of the cancel culture discourse simply *is* just free speech going back and forth, and for the 5% when it costs someone a job or other IRL consequence, well, those incidents seem to cut in all directions, both politically and in terms of fairness/proportionality.

    10
  4. MarkedMan says:

    Okay, I just deleted an entire post railing against the quality of Florida universities. It would have served no useful purpose.

    1
  5. CSK says:

    @MarkedMan:
    Well, DeSantis didn’t attend any of them. He graduated from Yale and Harvard Law.

    3
  6. Michael Cain says:

    I wonder how much trouble I would be in. Once, when I was distracted, someone asked me who my people were. I learned later that they were looking for something like the Baptists, or the Poles, or the Greens. With no thought, what popped out was, “The applied mathematicians.”

    1
  7. Michael Cain says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Okay, I just deleted an entire post railing against the quality of Florida universities.

    I had occasion to look the other day, and both U of Florida and FSU make US News & World Report’s list of the 20 best public universities in the country.

    1
  8. Michael Cain says:

    Lordy, two edit buttons with timers counting down at once!

    2
  9. Jen says:

    Indeed, there’s noting that would seem to require anyone to actually take the survey—the school is simply required to administer it and compile results. Nor is there any obvious way to prevent mass pranking of the survey, with everyone answering as though they’re QAnon members.

    Correct.

    Now add in the time, energy, and effort that colleges and universities will be required to expend enacting this ridiculous nonsense. And we wonder why college costs are rising.

    3
  10. Blue Galangal says:

    @Michael Cain: I suspect, if this type of thing goes into effect, they’ll both fall right off that list and into the Liberty University realm.

    1
  11. Barry says:

    @Michael Cain: “U of Florida and FSU make US News & World Report’s list of the 20 best public universities in the country.”

    Not for long.

    1
  12. Barry says:

    @Jen: “Now add in the time, energy, and effort that colleges and universities will be required to expend enacting this ridiculous nonsense. And we wonder why college costs are rising.”

    In addition, pranking is a two-edge sword. I expect that Trumpist college students will make severe and dishonest complaints.

    2
  13. Joe says:

    Nor is there any obvious way to prevent mass pranking of the survey, with everyone answering as though they’re QAnon members.

    This, all day long. College students. College faculty. These will be the most useless surveys ever created.

    Just BTW, who is going to write these surveys and what kind of trolling will they be subjected to?

    3
  14. KM says:

    @Scott:
    There was an article where a group was demanding teachers wear body cameras to prove they are teaching CRT or any other “propaganda”. The idea that a private citizen would be forced to wear a surveillance device to monitor their behavior boggles the mind. The reason police have to wear them is because they’re a government employee with the power to arrest, injury or even kill people under color of law and must be able to account for that. The legal ability to harm people under certain circumstances warrants the necessity of a device to verify those conditions were met via video; what’s the logic for a teacher? For that matter, what’s to stop it from spreading to other positions?

    2
  15. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    DeSantis is making up laws just to get booked on Fox News and the rest of the right wing propaganda machinery.
    That’s all this is.

    7
  16. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Bingo. Ron wants to run for president. This is (part of) the floor show. The sad reality of modern politics is that everything these people do – everything – is geared to getting either elected or reelected. 24/7/365 election campaigns leave little time or space for them to actually do the jobs they were elected to do. That has to change.

    9
  17. Mimai says:

    This is a rather clear challenge to academic freedom and paired with a not-so-subtle threat to defund universities that don’t teach Trumpist and Fox News dogma (especially in conjunction with other provisions of the law).

    This seems overwrought and unfair. I carry no water for DeSantis – he is clearly positioning to curry favor with several voting constituencies. That doesn’t make this bill a Trump/Fox indoctrination plot.

    Indeed, there’s noting that would seem to require anyone to actually take the survey—the school is simply required to administer it and compile results. Nor is there any obvious way to prevent mass pranking of the survey, with everyone answering as though they’re QAnon members.

    While the pranking would indeed be delicious (the kids these days are very very clever in their ways), this could also lead to the very actions that are feared. There’s also the real problem of selective responding. If students with an ax to grind are overrepresented in survey responders, it could give an inaccurate impression of the campus climate. Which could then lead to punitive and destructive actions by the state.

    It seems rather clear that they’re intending to force the teaching of ideas that lack scholarly backing and are giving license to those who wish to spew vitriol at LGBTQ students and faculty.

    I don’t think that is clear at all. Especially in the social sciences and humanities, there is legit scholarly debate about how to interpret history and new research findings. There is also (social, financial, professional) restriction on the types of research questions that can be asked.

    Normative sociology – delineation of what the causes of problems ought to be – is pervasive. And it stifles scientific understanding and critical thinking. Addressing this problem (I do think it’s a problem) is NOT to give license to the spewing of vitriol at members of marginalized communities.

    There are ideas that have scholarly backing that are challenging (and sometimes uncomfortable) to grapple with. We do students, the academy, and society no favors by ignoring these or characterizing them as anti-[insert term] or [insert term]-ist.

    The audio/video capture of outdoor events (including classes) is indeed problematic. Not that many courses hold outdoor lectures, so this is unlikely to be a real problem……but the principle is still troubling.

    For in-class lectures, the bill states that a recorded lecture may not be published without the consent of the lecturer. It also contains a clause (4b) about bringing action against the publisher of the audio/video. This could get very ugly very quickly.

    In undergrad psych classes, students frequently share personal stories. Indeed, one of the things we talk about is creating a climate where everyone feels supported in expressing difficult feelings and in thinking out loud, while also noting the importance of boundaries, context, etc.

    This requires a lot of trust. I worry that someone would feel emboldened by this bill to record classes for ideological reasons. I’m concerned that I wouldn’t even be asked for permission and that students’ stories/thoughts – expressed in a very specific context – would be blasted on the internet. Can’t unring that bell.

    [wrap it up dude

    Academic freedom, the free exchange of ideas, viewpoint diversity – these are all very dear to me. The academy has clear problems in these areas. This bill does nothing to address those problems. In fact, it’ll probably just make things worse. And so it goes.

    4
  18. James Joyner says:

    @Mimai:

    This seems overwrought and unfair. I carry no water for DeSantis – he is clearly positioning to curry favor with several voting constituencies. That doesn’t make this bill a Trump/Fox indoctrination plot.

    Granting that this is largely grandstanding, it’s based on the notion that only Democratic ideas based on “science” are getting taught and that there needs to be more diversity of viewpoints taught. What else can that possibly mean?

    Ditto this: “‘Shield’ means to limit students’, faculty members’, or staff members’ access to, or observation of, ideas and opinions that they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive.” I’m reflexively opposed to trigger warnings and speech codes. But the impetus here is to push back against the idea of “safe spaces” for POC and LGBTQ folks.

    2
  19. Mimai says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Several good small schools as well: Eckerd, Rollins, Stetson, Embry-Riddle, Ringling.

    I’m confident this bill will do nothing to dull the shine of FL colleges and universities.

  20. gVOR08 says:

    Yes, my beloved /s guv DeUseless doesn’t really know or care what universities, or K-12, teach. He’s just grandstanding for the rubes. But once he’s gone, hopefully in ignominious defeat, this law will still be on the books and ratfrackers will use it. Same with voting bills. The GOP legislators may be grandstanding rather than seriously planning to overturn an election. But come next election, the tools they created will be there for people who do wish to overturn an election.

    2
  21. Mimai says:

    @James Joyner:

    To be clear, I don’t think the motives are virtuous. And yet, as written, the bill gives no coverage to people who spew vitriol at marginalized groups.

    Thought experiment: If you didn’t know ahead of time who wrote the text of the bill, would you be surprised to later learn that it came from the FIRE group?

    2
  22. Modulo Myself says:

    I really wonder how much power these things have outside the Fox bubble. How many parents are sending their kids to State U and worrying about CRT and indoctrination vs stuff like graduating in 4 years with a good major and not partying too much? And spare me on the due process. The conservative bubble produces this ideology that says it’s normal to have anxiety about what will happen to your drunk son after a questionable encounter at a frat party. Normal people don’t want their kids to make dumb choices while hammered. They don’t get enraged about the possibility that one day down the road their boy might be screwed over after having very blurry/non-consensual sex.

    It’s not only Florida. It’s everywhere. Loudon County when 60% for Biden, and yet conservatives are taking these images of white idiots at a school board meeting as the next Tea Party wave. When in fact this rage (I think) is the product of being the 40%–losers, declasse, ugly, and dumb.

    1
  23. Chip Daniels says:

    This is another data point demonstrating that the contemporary Republican party has collapsed into pure ethnic and cultural grievance, without even the pretense of wanting to govern as a political party.

    3
  24. James Joyner says:

    @Mimai:

    And yet, as written, the bill gives no coverage to people who spew vitriol at marginalized groups.

    So, what is your view of what this means?

    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, Art. I of the State Constitution, or s.1004.097.

    What possible benign motive could be behind this?

    2
  25. The past several weeks of policy action and attention will shape my job search when I’m back on the academic job market in a couple of years…..

    People with options won’t go to shitty situations… and shitty situations will need to pay a lot more to get the same quality that they currently get before the situation became shitty.

    2
  26. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @CSK: Well, DeSantis and I have something in common, having attended Yale. Of course, I graduated from the University of Florida before that. If I were back on the UF campus, and some survey-taker asked me what my political philosophy was, I would simply say “Hegelian” and let them puzzle it out.

    1
  27. CSK says:

    @SC_Birdflyte:
    And if pressed, you could refer your interrogator to your thesis…and antithesis.

    4
  28. inhumans99 says:

    @Blue Galangal:
    Maybe not, the problem in FL is not the Universities. Anyway, they may not do all that much to not encourage that folks answer the survey in such a manner that the survey takers say they are a trans individual who is also a member of Q and worships Trump, that would throw folks looking at the results of such surveys for a loop and would probably cause folks in the FL Government to quietly retire such surveys.

    Unless there is a penalty for answering in a prankish way, but even then plenty of folks could bombard the surveys with such answers to the point where DeSantis has to decide, fine 20,000 pranksters or realize the optics of that would not look good and quietly retire the surveys by not requiring enforcement that every student take the survey.

    What is weird with FL and TX is that folks are starting to live under Cuba like regimes, but in CA I am seeing Ads that says Newsome is sending all of us (or most of us) checks due to how well CA is doing financially, and in FL their Governor is asking for permission to video tape students in classrooms and force you to declare your political beliefs and in TX the Governor goes on the record to declare he is not a fan of Dogs. Quite the contrast.

    I do think that this discomfort with the Govs of TX and FL basically just dictating what their citizens can or cannot do while living in the state will eventually be noticeable as folks start to push back on Governors who declare that they are all about allowing full unfettered Freedom in their states, as long as you do not do a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,i…because that can get you fined or arrested, but otherwise you are free as a bird in TX and FL, lol.

    More seriously, the Gov of FL wanting to create a law where citizens have to truthfully declare their political affiliation is something that made me go whoa! I bet a lot of Floridians are not happy that DeSantis wants to force their kids or kids from other states attending Universities to reveal who they plan to vote for in future elections.

    Folks who fled Cuba, and just Floridians in general should be spooked by this becoming a law and I wonder if this law will just be completely toothless as bureaucrats choose to ignore enforcement of it. Kind of like when Obama declared it was not a priority to go after people who smoked MJ in CA when possession of the drug in CA was still illegal at both the state and Federal level.

  29. Mimai says:

    @James Joyner:

    From the bill:

    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, Art. I of the State Constitution, or s.1004.097.

    2. “Shield” means to limit students’, faculty members’, or staff members’ access to, or observation of, ideas and opinions that they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive.

    I may be venturing out over my skis here, but I don’t think this is [your words]: “giving license to those who wish to spew vitriol at LGBTQ students and faculty.” Would such vitriol spewing not cross the line and lose First Amendment protection? Harassment, threats, intimidation, etc.

    Rather, I think it is gesturing at “free speech zones,” invited speakers, hecklers vetoes, etc. And also the type of scholarly (and potentially uncomfortable) content that is presented in courses.

    What possible benign motive could be behind this?

    I wrote this: “To be clear, I don’t think the motives are virtuous.”

    Motives != Text. If you want to discuss the mendacity of DeSantis, that’s fine, you’ll get no argument from me. But I understood your post to be about the bill. Of course, those are not orthogonal, but surely we can focus on what the text says without getting into mind-reading territory.

    2
  30. Barry says:

    @inhumans99: “Folks who fled Cuba, and just Floridians in general should be spooked by this becoming a law…”

    They probably like it and see it as anti-communist.

    2
  31. Nightcrawler says:

    How does this work for international students? Do they need to pick an American political orientation, even if they have zero understanding of American politics, even if they’re here only to get a degree and will return home after graduation?

    This is about purging Florida unis of anyone who isn’t a Branch Trumpidian. Thankfully, there are 49 other states, plus international unis, for college-bound Florida students to choose from.

    1
  32. wr says:

    @Mimai: “I’m confident this bill will do nothing to dull the shine of FL colleges and universities.”

    Yes, there’s nothing that screams “quality education” more loudly than a guarantee that every thought allowed to be expressed on campus has been approved by Ron DeSantis.

    5
  33. Mimai says:

    @wr:

    Haha! That is no doubt true. I guess the affected academies should be grateful that that’s not what is in the bill.

    1
  34. Kurtz says:

    @Mimai:

    Yes, I was a little surprised by the Trumpist/Fox News dogma line.

    Also.

    1
  35. Kurtz says:

    @SC_Birdflyte:

    I’d love to see the the spike in hits on the Hegel Wiki page originating from Florida Government IPs.

    1
  36. Mimai says:

    @Kurtz:

    Haha! I’ve got a sickness. You too. Fortunately for me (us?), other people carry most of the symptom burden. Sorry, not sorry.

    1
  37. Kathy says:

    Not exactly relevant, but from what I recall of Florida, it won’t take much sea level rise for a major part of the state to be swallowed by the ocean.

  38. Kurtz says:

    @Mimai:

    The way I see it, if people want to compress analysis of complex issues into 280 characters of snark, the Twitterverse China Brain is a few keystrokes away.

    Damn this illness! Wait, have fun with the symptoms y’all! I ain’t gettin’ vaxxxed; that’s how they get you.

    1
  39. Teve says:

    @Kathy: Miami is in trouble, but it would take meters of sea-level rise to make a double-digit percentage change in land area. For instance, I’m typing this 140’ above sea level, 45 minutes north of the University of Florida. The bigger problem is that rising sea levels make flooding more destructive.

  40. Teve says:

    DeSantis is a smart guy who understands his idiot supporters. On the way to work every morning I’ll stop by Panera and get an iced coffee and there’s this horrible elderly woman who wears a huge confederate flag hat and her car is full of bumper stickers saying Trump and In God we trust and No Liberals and a confederate license plate saying “if this flag offends you you should learn some history” etc. She probably thinks DeSantis is finally stickin’ it to them commie profesor libtards.

    1
  41. Gustopher says:

    Later in the bill, they specifically allow the audio and/or video capture of any events on campus and the subsequent publication of any outdoor events on the Internet. This is an encouragement to harassment

    So, I guess we film every Republican on campus? At all times? Give them no privacy at all?

    Sounds good.

    1
  42. Teve says:

    Biasing the US government towards the stupidest MFers in the country is probably going to lead to a constitutional crisis.

    2
  43. Gustopher says:

    @Teve:

    a confederate license plate saying “if this flag offends you you should learn some history”

    I’m almost wondering what the exonerating history of the confederate flag is.

    I suspect it will be “Robert E. Lee was an ephebophile not a pedophile,” or some equivalent.

    1
  44. Kathy says:

    @Teve:

    Maybe my memory’s wrong. In 1990 a friend and I drove from Orlando to Miami, and I swear the highest elevation seemed to be about half an inch.

  45. DrDaveT says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’m almost wondering what the exonerating history of the confederate flag is.

    Probably something along the lines of how it stands for states’ rights to resist the federal hegemony and preserve FreeDumb for The (white) People. Because the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, it was Much More Principled than that.

  46. Teve says:

    @<a href="#comment-2623163"Gustopher: it’s some vague ‘state’s rights’ bullshit that the locals aren’t interested in exploring.@Kathy: Orlando is about 100 ft above Sea Level.

  47. gVOR08 says:

    Here south of Sarasota I’m about twelve miles straight line from salt water and fifteen feet above. I refused to look at anything below ten feet.

  48. Ken_L says:

    The Washington Post published an atrociously inaccurate story claiming the bill ‘required students and staff to disclose their political ideologies’, as if participation in a survey was going to be compulsory complete with names. Naturally a bunch of liberal website writers ran with it, either not caring about or not bothering to check its truthfulness.

    This has allowed Trump Republicans to plead they’re victims of media bias, the role they were born to play. Unfortunately, it has also buried the true evil in the bill, which requires a survey of “the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented … in the classroom”, not simply whether students feel free to express diverse opinions. This is so vague and open-ended it could be used to justify all sorts of mischief. Are science teachers going to be obliged to “present” Biblical stories of creation which “compete” with established geology and biology? Will lecturers in the law school be required to “present” the “perspective” that “God’s natural law” over-rides the US constitution? How about history teachers – will the claim that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery have to be “presented” as a “competing idea” to the truth?

    From banning ‘vaccination passports’ to making it illegal for social media apps to censor Republicans to this nonsense, DeSantis seems to focus all his energies on pandering to the Trump Cult. And did I mention he’s sending police to help Greg Abbott repel the invasion of the illegals? Abbott, of course, being engaged in a competition with DeSantis to be the Trumpiest governor out of all the Trumpy governors.

    A rational nation would emphatically reject such infantile posturing at the next election. I won’t hold my breath waiting for it to happen.

    2