At UFF, we believe that academic freedom is vital to the health of Florida’s higher education community. Students and faculty must have the rights to teach, feel, think, and believe whatever they deem is best, in both their personal and professional lives. Any attempts by political or corporate interests to limit these freedoms, directly or indirectly, will only serve to harm those whom the higher education system exists to serve—the students, families, and communities who benefit every day from Florida’s colleges and universities.
To defend these rights, in August of 2021 UFF chose to join suit against the State of Florida regarding HB 233, the so-called “Viewpoint Diversity” law passed during the 2021 legislative session. Through open intimidation, secretive threats, and political and administrative coercion, this law is designed to chill the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as the right to privacy, of Florida’s higher education students, faculty, and staff.
Despite its deceptively innocuous title, HB 233 is actually a “Viewpoint Discrimination” law that contains three key attacks on academic freedom:
- It permits students to record classroom lectures without giving prior notice to their instructor and without their instructor’s consent to obtain evidence in support of lawsuits or school complaints filed by the student. This provision is designed to silence students and faculty during class discussion, out of fear of secret recordings.
- It prohibits the State Board of Education and Board of Governors from “shield[ing]” “students’, faculty members’, or staff members’ access to, or observation of, ideas and opinions that they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive.” It also authorizes students, faculty, and staff to sue colleges and universities for engaging in“shielding.” This provision ensures that racist and other hate speech is not restricted on higher education campuses and that individuals can take legal action against administrations that choose to restrict such speech.
- It establishes a so-called “Intellectual Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Survey,” to be administered at each state college and university campus. Governor DeSantis and other Florida leaders have publicly threatened to defund institutions whose survey results don’t match conservative values. There is no guarantee the surveys will be anonymous, and there are no limits upon the kinds of questions these surveys can ask, nor upon where and how the results can be published. In short, these surveys are a weapon designed to benefit the political party in power and to punish those who do not hold “correct” or “acceptable” beliefs.
The United Faculty of Florida is proud to stand against this law, and we will do all in our power to ensure that the students, faculty, and staff of Florida’s higher education community—regardless of their political persuasion—do not lose even one phrase from the rights promised to them by the US Constitution.