Education

Florida law will require public universities to investigate “freedom of knowledge” and “diversity of opinions”

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (Ron DeSantis) signed a piece of legislation on Tuesday that requires public universities to investigate their levels of “freedom of knowledge and diversity of opinions.” Teacher groups criticized the new law as unnecessary and may be chilling.

The three dozen public colleges and universities in Florida will have to determine “the extent to which competing ideas and opinions are presented” and whether community members “freely express their beliefs and opinions” in the classroom and on campus. This legalThe one that came into effect on July 1 does not describe the method of investigation, but stipulates that it should be “objective, non-partisan, and statistically valid.” It will be selected or created by the council of the state university system and the state board of education.

According to the law, these boards of directors must not restrict the “access” or “observation” of ideas and opinions that students, faculty and staff “may feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, unpleasant or offensive” have.

The legislation also allows college students to record lectures without the consent of teachers for educational purposes or in connection with complaints against institutions or criminal or civil litigation. (No recordings may be released without the teacher’s permission.)

“In the past, people thought that a college campus was a place where you could be exposed to a lot of different ideas. Unfortunately, now the norm is that these environments are more depressing intellectually,” Republican DeSantis said at a conference. Tuesday press conference, Reiterate that Republican legislators and elected officials have been expressing for years-many faculty and staff have sneered at it. “You have orthodox ideas that you advocate, while other views are avoided or even suppressed. We don’t want that in Florida.”

The law does not state what will happen to the survey results (if any), and the survey results must be compiled and published before September 1 of each year, starting in 2022. But DeSantis hinted at the potential consequences for state institutions, saying that universities should not become “a hotbed of antiquated ideologies.” That is “money that is not worth paying taxes, and this is not something we are going to support.”

Republican State Representative Spencer Roach, who supported the bill in the House of Representatives, told his colleagues in lawmakers in March that he was worried that students would review their views. A 2020 survey of nearly 20,000 undergraduates across the country found that about 60% have reservations about themselves because they are afraid of the reaction of professors, administrators, or other students. chronicle Reported beforeThe results of the investigation “may affect any actions that the president of the university may want to take, or any actions that the legislature may want to take in the future,” Roach said.

“Looking for a solution to the problem”

Faculty organizations and Democratic state lawmakers questioned the intent of the legislation and criticized its ambiguity.Because universities are prohibited from “shielding” offensive or unwelcome speech, does this mean that professors “can prohibit students from showing respectful and appropriate behavior in class?” Statement against the billDemocratic state Rep. Omari Hardy told other lawmakers in March that the language of the legislation would deprive managers and faculty of the discretion to control the academic environment, which is usually their right.

Anita Levy, senior program officer in the AAUP Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance Department, said that the legislation appeared to be “looking for a solution to the problem.” She said that concerns about no more free exchange of ideas on campus have been greatly exaggerated.

Worryingly, the survey will check whether students, faculty and staff are “willing” to express their opinions freely, said Karen Morian, president of Florida Union College, which represents more than 20,000 teachers. People’s feelings do not always reflect reality.

She said in an interview in April that there has been no increase in the number of students filing complaints against faculty or graduate assistants across the state. “For me, this will be empirical evidence,” she said. “But we didn’t see it.”

Instead, she said, faculty and staff “work very hard to maintain civic discourse in the classroom, to make students feel safe, and they can openly discuss ideas and develop perspectives…all of these are part of our mission.”

Now, these ideals may be more difficult to achieve. Levi said that if the contingent’s faculty and staff believe that the legislature is looking at them, they will “think twice” about what and how they teach.

In March, Joe Cohen, director of legislation and policy at the Personal Educational Rights Foundation, wrote that students may also be cautious about what they share. Whether students have the right to record their lessons is a tricky question. He wrote, Taking into account the tension between transparency and maintaining an environment that does not hinder speech. But “there are only recordings in the classroom…have great potential to chill anyone who dares to express controversial ideas.”

Moreover, Cohen wrote, “the bill does not define the scope of complaints to a qualified agency” as a reason for allowing records. Nor does it require that the complaint is in good faith.

“Do conservative students have to pay attention to their words to avoid being reported to campus administrators?” he wrote. “Does the progressive faculty and staff have to do the same to avoid complaints?”

In a statement, the University of Florida said it looked forward to “widespread participation” in the investigation. UF is “a market of ideas, where various opinions can be expressed, and independent investigation and active academic deliberation are emphasized.

“We believe the survey will reflect this.”

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