Free Speech Experts Criticize DeSantis Law Punishing “Indoctrination” of Students
- DeSantis signed a law requiring public universities to survey students and faculty on their political beliefs.
- Academics and lawyers have said the law is “shameful” and could lead to bizarre classroom instruction.
- For example, “intellectual diversity” could be used to force teachers to teach creationism alongside the science of evolution.
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Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday signed a new bill that requires state public universities to survey faculty, students and staff on their political beliefs in order to gauge “diversity of views “and to fight against the” indoctrination “of students.
The law passed by the Republicans seeks to determine “the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented” in classrooms and whether students “feel free to express their beliefs and views on campus and on campus. class “, according to the text of the bill. And it demands that students “be shown a variety of ideas and opinions, including those with which they may disagree or find uncomfortable.”
It is still unclear how the state will use the information it collects, but academics and free speech advocates fear DeSantis and lawmakers will retaliate against universities and their faculties for political reasons. . The governor, who has carved out a national profile for himself with his Trumpian policies, suggested Wednesday that the state would cut funding for schools it sees as “hotbeds for an outdated ideology.”
First Amendment experts say Florida law is unconstitutional and will do the opposite of what it claims. Instead of promoting free speech, they fear that it will both suppress certain views and undermine academic freedom, as well as force professors to waste time presenting discredited science and theories. And this effort comes amid DeSantis’ broader crackdown on free speech, including the Black Lives Matter protests and the teaching of critical race theory in public schools.
Attack on freedom of expression and academic freedom
Critics of Florida’s new law fear that DeSantis and the GOP-led state legislature will intimidate universities and dampen speech on campus. Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said the law is unconstitutional because there is no “overwhelmingly compelling government interest” to justify suppressing speech from professors and students.
“This is a truly shameful decision that undermines the First Amendment, which will cool speech on campuses, and I think trying to present it as a defense of free speech is an ultimate ‘top down’ moment. “Kubic told Insider. “Everything about it is designed to cool and intimidate, not to actually cultivate an environment of free speech or dissent.”
He added: “Ron DeSantis disapproves of what you think is not a compelling government interest.”
The ACLU is waiting for more clarity on what the investigation will look like and how it will be implemented before making decisions on its legal strategy. Kubic said “all options remain on the table”.
While all public universities are already required to abide by the First Amendment, the values of free speech are at odds with academic freedom, said Robert Post, professor of constitutional law at Yale and former dean of the school. Teachers distinguish between good ideas and bad ideas, and truth and falsehoods, in a way incompatible with the promotion of “intellectual diversity”. While the government must protect all speech equally, universities routinely grant tenure to faculty, students, and award scholarships – all actions that involve discrimination between ideas.
“We train students to become proficient in their disciplines and that, of course, means it’s not a marketplace of ideas, it’s a teaching ground for building skills,” Post told Insider. . “Not all ideas are created equal, if you care about competence.”
To demand “intellectual diversity” in the classroom is to demand that a discredited theory like creationism be taught alongside the established science of evolution, Post said. Political science departments shouldn’t hire liberal and conservative professors, they should hire good political scientists, whatever their personal political beliefs. He is concerned that the law will empower politicians “who think politics should trump truth” and compared the phenomenon to Joseph Stalin’s partnership with Soviet biologist Trofim Lysenko, who pushed for agricultural pseudoscience endorsed by politicians. Marxists who contributed to the murderous famines of the country.
A broader effort to suppress speech
The new law is part of a series of steps DeSantis and its GOP allies have taken to crack down on free speech and regulate education. This spring, DeSantis signed a law that significantly increased criminal penalties for protesters. Last week he preemptively banned Florida schools from teaching systemic racism and the history of slavery through the lens of critical race theory and The New York Times Magazine’s “1619 Project.” .
There are many reasons why classrooms are increasingly a battleground for political culture wars. The polarization of education in electoral politics has increased in recent years. Voters with a college education were key to President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020, and the gap between the vote of college-educated and non-college Americans widened last year and is particularly pronounced among white voters. In the 2020 election, Biden won 54% of white graduates voters, while former President Donald Trump won 63% of non-graduates white voters, according to an analysis of election results by Democratic data company Catalist.
As the country becomes more educated, this growing polarization could present an ongoing challenge for the Republican Party across the country. Asserting more control over what is taught in public schools could be a way for the GOP to reverse this trend.
But Ken Paulson, director of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University, said that particular effort could backfire. He believes professors and students will largely reject the investigation and simply refuse to participate in state efforts. Media headlines are the point, he argued, and the GOP’s efforts will fail on a practical level.
“Professors are only going to boycott him because it is a state that plays with the education of young people,” he told Insider. “I just know that as a dean I try to get my faculty to answer any poll – you know professors are very busy people and they don’t take authority well. ”