This legislative session, Florida lawmakers passed an all-time high number of bills keeping records exempt from the public.
One exemption has students and faculty worried that colleges could end up in the pocket of corporations. The bill would exempt university foundation meetings from being open to the public if they’re talking about research funding.
But United Faculty of Florida President and Florida State professor Jennifer Proffitt said the bill has consequences.
“The potential to allow for corporate influence on research, which of course affects academic integrity,” Proffitt said.
Donors are already allowed to remain anonymous, and backers said this covers ideas that have yet to be patented and could be stolen. Proffitt said the meetings were all the public had left.
“At least it’s an open meeting,” she said. “I think it’s less likely deals that could potentially affect academic integrity would be made, at least there’d be some sunshine on the process.”
During the legislative session, students spoke out against the bill, which met the two-thirds majority decision needed to create a public records exemption in Florida’s House by only four votes.
Now the students are trying to organize a veto campaign.
Jerry Funt and the Florida State Progress Coalition are worried that the bill makes it easier for corporations to push their agenda.
“With private money comes private ideas,” Funt said. “That’s not always the case but sometimes it is the case.”
The First Amendment Foundation said universities already find ways around giving up information under existing law.
“Even if you’re allowed to come in a meeting, under the sunshine law, they’re going to be discussing things in code: Project X, Project Magellan,” said Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation.
The Governor has two weeks to sign the bill into law.