House advances plan to require state universities and colleges to conduct annual ‘intellectual diversity’ surveys

Florida State University. Source: Wikimedia Commons

State colleges and universities would have to conduct an annual “intellectual diversity” survey under a bill moving through the Florida House of Representatives.

In a 10-4 vote, the House Higher Education and Career Readiness Subcommittee on Thursday endorsed legislation (HB 613) that would require the 28 state colleges and the 12 state universities to conduct “an objective, nonpartisan and statistically valid survey to be used by each institution that considers the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented and members of the [college or university] feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.”

The survey, which would include students, faculty, and staff on each campus, would be conducted annually.

Matthew Lata, a Florida State University professor representing the United Faculty of Florida union, questioned the survey provision.

“We think that’s highly problematic,” said Lata, who is the stage director for the FSU Opera. “And the devil is in the details. First of all, we don’t see how it can be nonpartisan when the impetus behind it is fairly partisan, based on a set of partisan assumptions on what happens on campus.”

Lata said there are unresolved questions about the survey, including how the information would be used.

“Would faculty be hired and fired based on their political beliefs, to change and adjust the political balance?” he asked.

But Rep. Ray Rodrigues, the Lee County Republican who is sponsoring the bill, rejected the assertion that the surveys would be based on pre-existing assumptions.

“Every one of you know you can design an objective survey,” Rodrigues told the House panel. “Faculty unions embrace diversity in every area except intellectual diversity. Why is that?”

“The statement we’re making here is we don’t know, but we should know, if there is intellectual diversity, which is why this is in the bill,” he said.

The House advanced a similar diversity survey provision in the 2019 session, but it was rejected by the Senate. Rodrigues acknowledged the new proposal would likely end up as an issue in the final negotiations between the two chambers in the 2020 session, which begins Jan. 14.