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Florida Bill to Require ‘Political Orientation’ Survey on Campus

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A new bill that would require students, faculty, and other staff at Florida’s public colleges and universities to take a yearly assessment of their political beliefs passed both houses this week. It is now on its way to the governor to be signed into law.

Republican-backed House Bill 233 argues that the survey will “assess the status of intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity.” The state’s Board of Education would compile and publish the survey annually.

If it becomes law, the bill will allow colleges and universities to identify the prevailing political views on campuses statewide. The results of the survey, called the “viewpoint survey,” are intended to illustrate “the true state of intellectual freedom” in higher education.

Supporters of the bill suggest that the state’s colleges have long fostered liberal ideas at the expense of conservative ideology. The results of the survey could also spawn changes in future policy decisions in public schools.

Rep. Spencer Roach, sponsor of the bill, suggested that diversity should not be limited to physical characteristics alone but should also encompass this “viewpoint diversity.”

“When you value people that look different but think the same, that’s not diversity. That’s conformity,” he said, adding it’s now time to ask “whether our institutions are truly a marketplace for the exchange of ideas.”

Reaction to the Bill

The topic of free speech is often an incendiary topic on campus. Advocates of the bill argue that universities try to influence student opinions and “shield” them from different perspectives, especially those that they find uncomfortable or offensive. 

The bill has faced severe backlash from college faculty statewide who believe that the new move would have an adverse effect on free speech. “The idea is advanced that our colleges and our universities are teaching liberal views,” retired college administrator and current Democrat leader Rep. Geraldine Thompson told Citrus County Chronicle. These survey findings could later be used to alter certain curricula, she added.

Opposing claims about the political nature of the bill, Senator Ray Rodrigues, who is shepherding the legislation through the Senate told Florida Politics, “We’ve got a very long history of having political appointees in this position, and I have not seen any sentiment that they are abusing their positions for their own political purposes.”

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