Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a very strange piece of legislation requiring all of the state’s public universities and colleges to survey their student, faculty and staff “beliefs.” The point of the surveys, according to DeSantis, is to make sure these institutions represent “intellectual diversity.”
The bill says these surveys will keep track of “the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented” and will find whether students, faculty and staff “feel free to express beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.” It’s not clear what will be done with survey results, although DeSantis has threatened universities and colleges with budget cuts if they’re found to be “indoctrinating” students.
“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 at a press conference. “Unfortunately, now the norm is, these are more intellectually repressive environments. You have orthodoxies that are promoted, and other viewpoints are shunned or even suppressed.” He did not offer any examples.
Critics say the bill amounts to policing “thoughtcrime,” since there’s no real standard for what is meant by “intellectual diversity.” Giving politicians the authority to monitor and perhaps even meddle in what can and can’t be believed on campus. “I worry that this bill will force a fearful self-consciousness that is not as much about learning and debate as about appearances and playing into an outside audience,” Cathy Boehme, a researcher with the Florida Education Association, told the Miami Herald.
At a state floor session, Sen. Lori Berman told the bill’s advocates that the law crossed an uncomfortable line, allowing political leaders to police beliefs. “Don’t you think it is dangerous for us to have all the data on personal opinions of university faculty and students?” she asked. Her concerns were dismissed.
Of course, colleges and universities should be environments that encourage curiosity and promote diversity of thought. And if there is a pattern of students or faculty who feel like valid areas of scholastic study are being squashed, then that’s something well worth addressing. But it’s worth asking whether this level of oversight is really helping to encourage free thinking, and whether the people in charge are the best ones for that particular job.