In federal court in Florida, a key educational policy imposed by GOP Governor Ron DeSantis recently went on trial.
The case concerns a law mandating that surveys be taken annually at public colleges and universities in Florida to measure the diversity of viewpoints represented there. DeSantis, though, is not unequivocally committed to ideological diversity as a concept. Separately, he has also imposed an also challenged law that sharply restricted how and where concepts like white privilege and affirmative action could be taught, even including workplaces. (That state law was at least temporarily undone by a judge.)
DeSantis, of course, also signed the infamous initiative into law known (not in his terminology) as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which sharply restricts classroom discussions of the basic concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s not difficult to imagine, of course, that this law would be applied more intensively to, say, a teacher who mentioned they had a spouse of the same sex than an instructor in a heterosexual relationship, both of whom used the opportunity to make just brief remarks about something like love or kindness.
The law mandating the surveys, which for now have evidently been anonymous, has sparked concerns about intimidation against those whose personal views on any of the high-profile issues on which DeSantis has taken a stand aren’t in line with the governor. The legal team for the state in this lawsuit has contested the idea that the surveys reasonably connect to any kind of potential consequence for answering in a way that the conservatives in power would deem to be inappropriate. “Like a thermometer, the surveys are meant to be a diagnostic tool designed to take the temperature of taxpayer-funded campuses. The survey provisions presuppose no diagnosis, prescribe no course of treatment, and predict no future action or consequence,” a court filing from the state’s team claimed last month.
In a different court case challenging the legal foundation for DeSantis using state funds to transport migrants from Texas to Massachusetts, the state’s team contended DeSantis setting aside the funds essentially built upon a different legislative initiative — which he didn’t actually sign until after he signed the budget, so it’s not clear that observers can take it as a given that those aligned with DeSantis in some of these hot-button challenges know the basics of what they’re talking about.
Despite the rosy perspective the state’s team offered in this case, GOP state Rep. Spencer Roach, who was a sponsor of the original bill, explicitly tied its aims to political ambitions, saying if enacted it would “stem the tide of Marxist indoctrination on university campuses,” which generally speaking isn’t a thing, especially not in the sweeping fashion in which figures like Roach describe it. Allan Lichtman, a D.C. professor who was a trial witness, outlined that the underlying legislation contains no restrictions, he said, on how legislators could use the survey data, boosting the idea censorship or retaliation is possible, whether through stripping funding or some other method. Although it doesn’t appear the underlying court case names DeSantis as a defendant, it obviously deals with a key priority of his.
My firm is suing DeSantis' Florida over a law that requires public colleges and universities to survey political ideologies among students and faculty and mandates that schools may not “shield” students or faculty from different types of speech. https://t.co/wyqxtnBjQK
— Marc E. Elias (@marceelias) January 19, 2023