Florida Republicans have passed a controversial bill that claims to protect ideological freedom at state colleges and universities.
Bill 233, which now heads to Governor Ron DeSantis (right) for consideration, would require schools to survey the personal political opinions of faculty and students on their campuses and produce an annual report analyzing “in which measures competing ideas and perspectives are presented. “
While surveys describe an academic environment devoid of what the bill describes as “a diversity of views,” the Board of Governors of the state university system and the National Board of Education – both controlled by political representatives – could remedy the situation by forcing institutions to “Adopt codes of conduct.”
In addition, the law would allow students to secretly register professors for the purpose of denouncing them, if they felt their right to free speech was being violated.
Only one Republican lawmaker voted against the bill in the state Senate, where it passed Wednesday 23-15. State House lawmakers passed the bill by a 77-42 vote last month.
Barney Bishop, a lobbyist who has advocated for the bill, told the Miami Herald he believes “the cards are stacked” against conservative views in higher education and that he hopes HB 233 could tip the system away from “liberal ideology and also secularism”.
Bishop, who declined to name his clients, added that he hoped the effort will extend to K-12 education as well.
Rather than promoting and protecting free thought, opponents fear that the bill will do the opposite and have a chilling effect on academic freedom.
Cathy Boehme, a researcher at the Florida Education Association, who opposes the bill, told the Herald that the legislation opens the door to political interference in what should be a non-political process.
“I am concerned that this bill forces a frightening self-awareness that is not so much about learning and debating as it is about appearances and playing with an outside audience,” she said.
State Representative Geraldine Thompson (R), a retired university administrator, feared the survey results could be used to justify mandatory programs – effectively stifling free thought rather than protecting it.
“This inquiry will give someone a basis to say that we need to focus on these ideas, these points of view more than others,” she said in a sitting in the House last month.
Thompson noted that the bill could also limit the ability of college administrators to respond to disruptive events on campus. If the Ku Klux Klan decided to move through one of Florida’s historically black colleges and universities, for example, HB 233 could limit how the college could legally respond.
Florida’s legislation is one of a dozen similar bills being considered in other states, according to a postsecondary education bill tracking database maintained by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up to become a Founding Member and help shape the next chapter of HuffPost