DeSantis’ ‘intellectual diversity’ bill goes into effect today

The new bill requires colleges and universities to survey their community on political beliefs

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Ron DeSantis at the news conference on June 22.

Gillian Manning, Editor-in-Chief

On June 22, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the new ‘intellectual diversity’ bill (SB 264) which goes into effect today, marking a new era of political representation on campus.

The bill requires public colleges and universities to survey members of their community about their political beliefs. 

DeSantis expressed that the motivation behind the new legislation is to ensure that students are not shielded from particular partisan ideologies. 

“We want our universities to be focused on critical thinking and academic rigor. We do not want them as basically hotbeds for stale ideology,” DeSantis said at a recent news conference. “It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you’d be exposed to a lot of different ideas. Unfortunately, now the norm is really these are more intellectually repressive environments.”

If an individual claims that an institution violated their right to free expression, the bill states that the institution could pay damages in court and would have to use institutional funds rather than state funds to pay for the legal fees. No other penalties for institutions are specified within the bill.

The legislation does not detail what sort of questions will be asked on the surveys but makes it the responsibility of the state’s Board of Education, whose members are appointed by the governor,  to “create an objective, nonpartisan, and statistically valid survey.” 

“Community” is not clearly defined in the legislation, it’s unclear if the term refers only to students or students and faculty. The survey aims to analyze the “viewpoint diversity” and “intellectual freedom” of a campus, as well as how comfortable members of the college’s community feel about expressing their opinions or beliefs on campus. 

Institutions will have to publish the survey results every year by Sept. 1, beginning on Sept. 1, 2022. The legislation did not specify where the results will be published.

The bill protects “free-speech activities” including peaceful protests, speeches, distribution of literature such as pamphlets, carrying of signs, petitions, and faculty lectures. This means that a university must allow speakers on campus regardless of their political beliefs. “Defamatory” speech is not protected, though the bill does not specify what constitutes defamatory language. 

The new law permits students to record lectures without a professor’s knowledge but only for personal academic use or if they have a civil or criminal complaint against the university. Regardless of the reason for recording, the footage may not be published without the professor’s consent. 

Communication professor and president of the FAU chapter of United Faculty of Florida Deandre Poole called the legislation a “political litmus test” that has the potential to intimidate professors and prevent them from having open political debates.

Gillian Manning is the Editor-in-Chief for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, tweet her @gillianmanning_ or email [email protected]