The project, which is awaiting the governor’s signature, seems to align with the position of right-wing student militant groups
Republicans in Florida have stepped up their attack on what they call “Marxist teachers and students” at state universities and public colleges with a bill that encourages reporting by speakers perceived to stifle the “diversity of views” on campus.
The project, currently awaiting the signature of Florida Governor and Donald Trump’s ally Ron DeSantis, will allow students to record lectures without the consent of their teachers and will present them as evidence of political prejudice.
Requires that all 40 state-sponsored post-secondary education institutions in Florida conduct an annual survey of teachers and students to establish how well intellectual freedoms are protected on campus; and to “protect” students from efforts to limit their “access to, or observation of, ideas and opinions they may find unpleasant, undesirable, unpleasant or offensive.”
Any institution that blocks a student’s access to such “expressive activities”, the definition of which includes the content of the lectures, as well as “all forms of peaceful assembly, protests and speeches”, is exposed to lawsuits, says the new bill law.
Opponents say the protection clause, a late addition to the text of the bill as it progressed through Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature, opens the door to white supremacy or other right-wing hate groups.
“As we saw in Charlottesville, if you give them an opportunity like this, they will come,” said Dr. Karen Morian, president of the Florida United Teachers’ Union (UFF) of more than 20,000 educators. “And if it is at FAMU [Florida’s historically black agricultural and mechanical university] and they think they will be able to intimidate black college students, they will come. This is really very scary. “
Morian said the clause that allows clandestine recording of lectures is also problematic, despite advocates of the bill that educators have no right to privacy at a publicly funded institution.
“It defines our classrooms as a public space, whereas in reality, the general public cannot pass through it during classes,” she said. “They can walk around campus or from the parking lot to the office, which is a public space. But my classroom has never been seen as a public space. “
The Florida bill appears to align with the position of groups of right-wing student activists, such as Turning Point USA, which has long been opposed to what it considers the left’s dominance on campuses across the country and maintains a list of radical teachers who “do left-wing propaganda Classroom”.
Politicians who shaped Florida law recognize that there is no evidence that political bias is a problem at the 12 public universities and 28 publicly funded colleges in the state, but argue that legislation is needed to find out if it exists.
“We have a lot of anecdotal evidence of conservative students feeling very uncomfortable sharing their views in the university’s classrooms, they are being closed down,” said state deputy Alex Andrade, co-sponsor of the project.
“It is a common joke [among] conservative students that they need to adapt some of their essays to make them more progressive or left-leaning in order to get a better grade. When there is at least anecdotal evidence that people are concerned about actions against them because of their political views, it is an issue on which we would like to collect some data. “
Opponents say there is no need for a law and claim that mechanisms already exist for students to report offensive or blatant behavior by teachers. “It is based on national news and is unrelated to any incident in Florida,” Yale Olenik, a lawyer and legislative expert at the Florida Education Association, told lawmakers at a February hearing. “Florida colleges and universities are not reporting problems, students are not complaining.”
Andrade rejected the criticism. “Whenever a university professor is afraid of information that potentially makes him look bad, he translates ‘the solution in search of a problem’ because university professors have a terrible habit of always being right,” he said.
“This is just a strict collection of data related to people’s concerns about their views, whether progressive or conservative, being used against them on college campuses.”
The law’s architect, state deputy Spencer Roach, did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment, but in a tweet when the bill passed the Florida Senate earlier this month, he framed the bill as a “protection of intellectual diversity” .
“Freedom of expression is an inalienable right, despite what Marxist teachers and students think,” he wrote.
Democrats who voted against the bill pointed to a series of aggressive educational maneuvers that Republican lawmakers attempted during Florida’s current legislative session, which ends next week.
Politicians withdrew from the proposal to retain scholarships for students seeking undergraduate courses that they consider liberal, but are still making progress on plans to end guaranteed funding for certain scholarships and link their availability to the whims of state budgets.
This week, the Florida House voted to expand a school choice program that, critics say, withdraws money and resources from public schools and sends taxpayer money to private institutions with discriminatory practices.
“I am not surprised that Republicans are hurting public education from kindergarten to college because they are afraid of educated voters,” said state deputy Omari Hardy.
“Republicans have performed poorly in recent years with voters with higher education, which fueled their belief and fear that colleges would become fields of indoctrination. They believe that college students are fragile and fragile intellectual creatures, but there is no data showing that teachers are indoctrinating their students. “