Florida universities send political viewpoint survey to staff, students

University of Florida
Posted at 5:59 AM, Apr 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-05 05:59:29-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A union representing faculty at Florida’s state universities is discouraging members from participating in a survey meant to suss out the political leanings of students and employees and the political climate on their campuses.

The measure passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law last year by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis requires public universities to conduct an annual assessment of viewpoints and freedom of expression on campuses. The Board of Governors and State Board of Education will be required to compile and publish the results.

The proposal also mandates that students be exposed to a variety of political viewpoints and that they not be “shielded” from those arguments. Supporters of the legislation accused universities of drowning out conservative student voices.

A federal judge last week denied an emergency request to stop the survey, though opponents can still file an appeal.

The survey differs between students and faculty, with students being asked 21 questions and employees 24 questions.

Answers range from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” on statements such as “I feel that it is important to be able to express my political viewpoints without fear of negative consequences” and “I feel comfortable speaking up and giving my viewpoints on controversial topics.”

Other questions ask students whether they think their professor is liberal or conservative.

The schools are required to send out the questionnaire, but participation is optional and anonymous.

In a letter to its members, the United Faculty of Florida urged faculty, staff and students to ignore the survey, saying it would create a chilling effect on free speech and freedom of association on campuses.

“Florida’s government has no right to know the thoughts, feelings, or political or religious beliefs of anyone, including the higher education community,” the letter said. “Privacy is the bedrock of democracy and a safeguard against autocratic control.”

The union says that while the surveys are supposed to be anonymous, faculty members can be identified and targeted through questions about their demographic background and where they work.