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Opinion: Recent bill will damage educational freedom

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the controversial House Bill 233 into law this summer. 

The purpose of the bill, to “protect the expression of diverse viewpoints at Florida College System (FCS) institutions and state universities,” sounds reasonable enough, but its real purpose is far more controlling and could damage the intellectual freedom in Florida universities. 

The bill’s centerpiece is the establishment of an annual survey, which will begin next year, that assesses “the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” of a given institution. The survey will ask students and faculty whether or not they feel comfortable sharing their views in the classroom. 

While that goal might seem neutral at first glance, in practice it will mean cracking down on institutions that are too liberal for the state government’s tastes. 

The bill does not specify what consequences state schools will face if they are found to have failed to protect viewpoint diversity, or what the threshold will be for gaining such a distinction. 

Comments from officials in the DeSantis administration, however, indicate that funding could be withheld from any offending universities.

It is bad enough that the legal and financial fate of an institution will be determined according to a vague question with little to no guidelines for punishment, but House Bill 233 does not stop there. 

One of its most troubling provisions allows students to record class lectures to be used in complaints against their university. This essentially allows students to report any professor who expresses opinions deemed remotely controversial and threaten them with the prospect of an investigation. 

This would have the effect of discouraging professors from expressing controversial views, especially left-wing ones. Such “surveillance videos” would also serve the anti-university wing of the conservative movement by confirming their assumptions about higher education. 

Every part of House Bill 233 is designed for one purpose: shoring up conservative support for DeSantis as he gears up for his reelection bid next year (and likely a presidential campaign in 2024). 
This blatantly partisan bill, just one of many that the Florida legislature has passed this year, is the latest in a series of power grabs by an increasingly radicalized Republican Party. In short, House Bill 233 threatens the intellectual freedom in our state’s universities.

The opinions on this page do not necessarily reflect those of The Sandspur or Rollins College.

Have a differing opinion about House Bill 233? Send us your responses. We want to hear your voice.

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