TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Part of the education reform signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis includes legislation aimed at protecting diversity of thought on college campuses.
The new law’s first goal is to gauge whether students and faculty feel university campuses are tolerant of different ideas and perspectives.
A 2017 national survey found that while roughly seven out of 10 students felt their campus provided a supportive environment for diversity based on race, gender and religion, only about half felt that way when it came to political diversity.
“In other words, they’re really focused on people that, while they look different, they think the same,” said state Rep. Spencer Roach, who sponsored the diversity of thought legislation.
Roach hopes requiring universities to conduct annual surveys asking faculty and students whether they feel their campus is welcoming to diverse political viewpoints will help lawmakers better understand campus culture.
“This is not about advancing one ideology over another or pitting people against each other. Rather, we want to ensure the respectful open dialogue of competing views and let the marketplace of ideas sort that out,” said Roach.
Retired political science professor Susan MacManus agrees with the goal of the survey, but she noted the devil is in the details.
“Because a survey is only as good as how it’s designed, whose input is there, how it’s analyzed,” said MacManus.
In addition to the survey, the legislation creates new due process protections for students, student government officials and student organizations facing disciplinary action from universities.
It also permits students to record lectures for educational purposes.
Another part of the new law prohibits universities from shielding students from controversial ideas.
Roach said the intent is to stop universities from canceling speaking events.
“And we’re talking here about people like Ben Shapiro and Candace Owens who have been invited to campuses by student-led organizations and then the university has canceled them or banned them because a few students felt that their speech was offensive,” said Roach.
The surveys are optional, and while the state will develop a standard survey, each university has the option to create its own.
The first survey results are due in September of next year.