- A union representing thousands of faculty at Florida's public colleges is urging students and employees to ignore a new survey aimed at gauging "intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity" on campus.
- United Faculty of Florida said boycotting the voluntary survey would protect "individuals of all political persuasions." The Republican-dominated state government began requiring public colleges to distribute the questionnaire under a 2021 law.
- Union officials have argued the survey would allow lawmakers to suss out which campuses have strong liberal inclinations and potentially punish those institutions. The union and other opponents sued to halt the survey's administration, which began Monday, but a federal judge on Friday allowed it to move forward.
After a multiyear effort, Florida's GOP-controlled legislature in April 2021 passed a law directing the state's public institutions to survey students and employees on questions like how comfortable they are expressing their views on campus and whether institutions welcome both liberal and conservative beliefs.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, also a Republican, signed the law in June 2021, at the time calling colleges "intellectually repressive environments."
This is a fairly common talking point among conservatives — that colleges suppress their viewpoints and instead indoctrinate students to liberal values. Part of the bill passed last year also states colleges can't limit students' and employees' exposure to speech "they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive."
Public institutions already must provide broad free speech rights under the First Amendment.
The law also allows students to record instructors' lectures for potential use in a civil or criminal court case against their college.
Many critics, including United Faculty of Florida, have homed in on the survey, which they argue could jeopardize free speech. The bill doesn't specify a use for the survey results, which are to be posted annually by Sept. 1.
The union said in a statement on Friday that the state government has no right to probe the thoughts, feelings, and religious and political beliefs of anyone, including those on college campuses.
It suggested the specificity of demographic questions on the survey would lead to targeting of faculty members, particularly those in minority groups.
Employees' version of the survey, a copy of which was included in court filings, requests they provide their race, gender and political affiliation. It also asks employees whether they believe an expectation of receiving tenure is that faculty ascribe to a political viewpoint — and it then asks whether they think that viewpoint is liberal, conservative or other.
The student survey asks such questions as whether they feel intimidated sharing ideas because their professors hold different political opinions from theirs. It also directs students to label their instructors as more conservative or liberal.
"This survey is an attack on the fundamental rights of all Floridians, and it has no place in a state or society that claims to be free," union President Andrew Gothard said. "The protections of the U.S. Constitution are too important to cast aside for political expediency. We urge all Floridians to join us in our fight against authoritarianism in all its forms: Boycott this survey."
A spokesperson for DeSantis pointed to the federal judge's decision not to bar the survey.
"Bottom line — they’re neutral surveys," Bryan Griffin, the governor's deputy press secretary, said in an email. "These surveys are designed to ensure viewpoints are NOT being suppressed in the classroom. This begs many questions about [the] ardent resistance to the transparency that the surveys seek to promote."
A representative from the Florida College System declined to comment. The State University System of Florida did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
But Kathryn Hebda, chancellor of the Florida College System, said in court documents the survey results will "provide a dataset that offers a useful look into how viewpoint diversity and academic freedom operate in real time on Florida’s campuses."
A lawsuit challenging the survey's constitutionality is ongoing. Plaintiffs in that case asked a federal judge to immediately block the survey's administration, which he declined to do. News reports suggest U.S. District Judge Mark Walker was skeptical in a Friday court hearing about arguments that lawmakers would come down on colleges based on the survey responses.