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Will Florida’s Law for Diversity of Thought at Universities Work?

In an internet-linked global society, protecting diversity of thought becomes even more important

A new Florida law, which took effect July 1, asks universities to survey “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” annually on their campuses, to find out how free students, faculty, and staff feel “to express their beliefs and viewpoints.” Ohio Northern University law professor Scott Gerber explains,

The problem DeSantis has identified is not unique to Florida — Indiana’s Republican governor signed a similar bill last month — and it traces directly to the political biases of the processes by which faculty are hired. Many of the same colleges and universities that tout tenure as a way to encourage free thought censor it by not allowing conservative and libertarian faculty candidates who think freely to get in the door.

I once suggested on the ConLawProf group email list that law schools need to hire more conservative and libertarian candidates (with “more” meaning, at a minimum, at least one). The reaction? One law professor posted that I was “nuts” to suggest such a thing. Libertarian law professor Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz quipped at a Federalist Society conference on intellectual diversity in the legal academy that his leftist colleagues at Georgetown felt that three conservatives on a law faculty of 120 was “plenty — and perhaps even one or two too many.”

Scott Gerber, “Gov. DeSantis and the need for viewpoint diversity in higher education” at Tampa Bay Times (July 1, 2021)

But these aren’t just anecdotes. Generally, the academic establishment is left-wing.

Group of five people protesting outside with signs

It’s not clear that Florida universities will co-operate or what is supposed to happen if they find out that universities are no longer environments where students are free to express differing viewpoints. But some have suggested that funding cuts are a possibility for monolithic institutions:

Though the bill does not specify what the survey results will be used for, both DeSantis and Rodrigues suggested that the state could institute budget cuts if university students and staff do not respond in a satisfactory manner.

“That’s not worth tax dollars and that’s not something that we’re going to be supporting moving forward,” DeSantis said.

Brett Bachman, “DeSantis signs bill requiring Florida students, professors to register political views with state” at Salon (June 23, 2021)

Some are very angry:

Gov. Ron DeSantis is on a roll. Seriously, first, he went after anti-racism being taught in Florida public classrooms. He apparently wanted to shield schoolchildren from being taught things that could “distort historical events” while protecting them from being indoctrinated by an ideology that doesn’t serve DeSantis and his party. He didn’t say that last part, but the racist writing is on the wall, especially with his next move requiring schools to conduct annual surveys to measure “intellectual diversity.”

Lyra Hale, “Florida Gov. DeSantis Forcing “Intellectual Diversity” Tests on College Students and Faculty to “Both Sides” Education” at MSN.com

Others are okay with it:

But rest assured: these longstanding issues that DeSantis has targeted are extremely important. They are the true roots and foundations of the problem of an overbearing, unelected, entitled, and ever crazier left attempting to rule us with zero rightful claim to do so. These people own the culture now, and the walls they have erected to preserve their permanent fortress of power have gone corrupt and rotten in the absence of any intellectual cross-currents. They are overdue for a good wrecking ball…

Monica Showalter, “DeSantis targets universities for their failures of ‘viewpoint diversity’” at American Thinker (July 2, 2021)

This is not just an American issue or just a university issue. When there is little real diversity of opinion, few learn anything they didn’t already know. Thanks to the internet, we get lots of information but we may need help sorting it, which can only come from a diversity of viewpoints.

There is also the question of whether average taxpayers should be expected to fund public institutions that turn out to be intellectual monoliths promoting opinions that, in some cases, are not even generally held. Stay tuned.

You may also wish to read: The[push to break up Big Tech monopolies. Facebook is “acting as an arm of the state,” says Florida’s governor

Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul; and with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor of the forthcoming The Human Soul: What Neuroscience Shows Us about the Brain, the Mind, and the Difference Between the Two (Worthy, 2025). She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

Will Florida’s Law for Diversity of Thought at Universities Work?