The Washington Post headline made clear that the evil governor of Florida wasn’t satisfied with his bad Critical Race Theory law, but now signed another evil law to control the minds of Florida’s college students by requiring them to verify their politics.
In push against ‘indoctrination,’ DeSantis mandates surveys of Florida college students’ beliefs
And The Hill twitted much the same.
— The Hill (@thehill) June 25, 2021
A law requiring students and faculty to declare their political beliefs would be outrageous and likely unconstitutional. However, the 12-page law, HB 233, does nothing of the sort. The operative language states:
The State Board of Education shall require each Florida College System institution to conduct an annual assessment of the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity at that institution. The State Board of Education shall select or create an objective, nonpartisan, and statistically valid survey to be used by each institution which considers the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented and members of the college community, including students, faculty, and staff, feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.
It’s a climate survey for ideological diversity, the sense of freedom to express beliefs and viewpoints on campus, much like the beloved climate surveys that have been used in colleges to gauge the campus sense about gender, race and sexual assaults. Of course, since this is De Santis and this is Florida, the same tool that’s adored elsewhere must be nefarious because everything De Santis does is evil.
Clay Calvert, director of the University of Florida’s Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, said the law raises a crucial question: Why a survey?
“I think the answer is that it is being mandated because it gives a conservative state legislative body a tool to withhold funding from a university that, based upon the survey results, seems to discriminate against conservative viewpoints,” he said in an interview.
The law says nothing about withholding funds, but what else could this otherwise widely-enjoyed tool be used for if not to promote right wing views?
A federation of unions that serve teachers in Florida said the bill signed this week was somewhat moot and potentially dangerous.
“Such a survey creates opportunities for political manipulation and could have a chilling effect on intellectual and academic freedom,” the Florida Education Association said. “Students already have the right to free speech on campus. All viewpoints can be expressed freely and openly.”
And the comments at WaPo make clear that its readers got the message, good and hard, that this mandate that the students and faculty declare their political beliefs was conservative Florida thought policing the campus.
What becomes of these surveys might be in question, and they could, as could any tool, be used for inappropriate purposes, just as climate surveys over the past few years have been used to create the impression that campuses are hotbeds of racism, sexism and rape. The bias is unsurprising, as respondents to voluntary surveys tend to be those students who feel most passionately about an issue and have more radical views. And, of course, since it’s only a survey, their views are often tainted to pursue an agenda, as there is no vetting for truthfulness involved.
There is no requirement that any student or faculty member, no less everyone, respond to the survey. There is no requirement that colleges take names and record their politics. The “mandate” isn’t about the students or faculty, but for Florida’s state colleges to conduct a “statistically valid” survey. There is certainly no mandate that “faculty declare their political beliefs.”
So why then did both WaPo and The Hill put out headlines that are not merely wrong, but calculated to convey a false and outrageous impression? The bill was short, unlike the thousand page omnibus bills that have become a federal norm, and their writers were presumably capable of maintaining focus long enough to read 12 pages, most of which have nothing to do with the survey.
The Florida law prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory is bad law. It’s vague and overbroad, and its prohibitions, though overstated, fail to address what the Florida lege purports to accomplish, the indoctrination of students into a . . . certain ideology. Therein, of course, lies the problem, as there is no way to clearly express what it’s trying to do. Critical race theory? Anti-racism? Social justice? Wokism? These are all moving targets of inadequate definition to be viable for the purpose of law.
Even the line between teaching and indoctrination is too fuzzy to serve as distinction. We can say it. We can “know” what we’re talking about, but when the law is to be applied to a specific act, word, idea or course of conduct, it ends up being in their constitutionally unacceptable no-man’s-land between Potter Stewart’s ears, “I know it when I see it.” Is there a legitimate concern that teachers may infuse their ideology into their teaching to indoctrinate students, to instill their beliefs in malleable minds? Absolutely. But these anti-CRT laws are ripe for abuse and almost certainly unconstitutional.
So what does this have to do with a climate survey about ideological diversity? Woke (there’s that ill-defined generalization again) activists fear that if it shows a lack of diversity, it will be used as a bludgeon to force schools to toe a politically conservative line. And they may end up being correct, even if that requires a leap of faith based on what HB 233 provides.
But the fact that the Washington Post and The Hill have falsely catastrophized the law, creating outrage and offense over a banal climate survey, demonstrates the problem giving rise to the reflexive demand for such a survey, and the bad CRT laws being enacted. If there is a battle of ideologies playing out here, it shouldn’t be between a dishonest media and the state. If this is “moral clarity” in journalism in action, then efforts like that happening in Florida are hardly as unjustified as its detractors believe. And that remains the point, that people are allowed to hold differing beliefs. And that the media should report about them accurately rather than be a participant in this ideological war.