In June 2021, claims spread online alleging that Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis had signed a bill that required public university students, faculty and staff to register their political views with the state. The law, known as Florida House Bill 233, went into effect on July 1, 2021.
More than a year later, the same claim began to spread again on social media. On July 5, author Stephen King tweeted, “DeSantis signs bill requiring Florida students, professors to register political views with state. I. Can’t. Even.” His tweet has since garnered over 133,000 likes on Twitter.
Does a Florida law require students and professors to register political views with the state?
No, a Florida law does not require students and professors to register political views with the state.
Each public university in Florida is mandated to conduct a survey on the “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” of its students, faculty, and staff. But individual participation is “anonymous” and “completely voluntary.”
WHAT WE FOUND
House Bill 233 (HB 233), which was adopted by the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in June 2021, states that the State Board of Education, which oversees the Florida College System, and the Board of Governors, which serves as the governing body for the State University System of Florida, shall require each state university 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,” HB 233 reads.
HB 233 defines "intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity" as “the exposure of students, faculty, and staff to, and the encouragement of their exploration of, a variety of ideological and political perspectives.”
The survey is one of several things outlined in HB 233. The law also prohibits the Board of Governors and state universities from shielding students, faculty or staff from protected free speech, which may include speech they find “uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive.” HB 233 also allows students to record audio and/or video of class lectures for their own personal educational use that may be used as part of a complaint to the university or used as evidence in preparation for a criminal or civil proceeding.
A copy of the employee survey, which was obtained by VERIFY, states that it “attempts to discover the extent to which all viewpoints - conservative, liberal, and otherwise - are welcomed and provided appropriate attention on your campus and in the classroom.” An email that accompanies the employee survey also says that “participation in this survey is completely voluntary.”
“This survey is anonymous. You are free to not answer any question or withdraw from the survey at any time. Responses will only be reported at the group level, not at the individual level. Respondents’ identities will never be published or compromised in any way,” the introduction to the employee survey reads.
The 24-question employee survey asks whether public university faculty and staff agree or disagree with the given statements, including the following:
- “My institution is equally tolerant and welcoming of both liberal and conservative ideas and beliefs.”
- “I rarely inject my own political ideas and beliefs into my classes.”
- “If you ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that an expectation of receiving continuing contract/tenure is that faculty ascribe to a particular political viewpoint, indicate which political viewpoint is the expectation: liberal, conservative or other.”
The employee survey also asks participants to provide information on what subject they may teach, whether they’re employed at a community college or state university, and to identify their racial background and gender. It also asks where employees would place themselves on the following scale: conservative, moderate, liberal, or none of the above.
Screenshots of some of the questions included in the student survey were published by FloridaPolitics.com, a statewide new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, and policy, on April 4.
One of the questions asks students whether their professors generally lean more conservative, liberal, other, or don’t know. Another question asks whether their college or university is more tolerant of conservative or liberal beliefs. FloridaPolitics.com says the survey also asks students identity questions, such as their race, gender, student status, and whether their classes are mostly in-person or online.
The United Faculty of Florida (UFF), a union that represents over 25,000 faculty members at all 12 Florida public universities, 16 state and community colleges, four K-12 lab schools, and at the private institution Saint Leo University, sent out a statement in April discouraging participation in the voluntary survey.
“Ignoring this survey is an act that protects individuals of all political persuasions, now and into the future. This survey would not pass ‘validity tests’ in any institutional review process, as there is no way to ensure that responses will reflect the demographics of the institution. It is not worthy of time away from our teaching and research,” UFF said.
In August 2021, UFF joined a lawsuit against the state of Florida regarding HB 233, saying that the law is actually a “viewpoint discrimination” law that contains three key attacks on academic freedom. A motion to dismiss the lawsuit was denied by a federal judge on April 5, 2022.
“Governor DeSantis and other Florida leaders have publicly threatened to defund institutions whose survey results don’t match conservative values. There is no guarantee the surveys will be anonymous, and there are no limits upon the kinds of questions these surveys can ask, nor upon where and how the results can be published. In short, these surveys are a weapon designed to benefit the political party in power and to punish those who do not hold ‘correct’ or ‘acceptable’ beliefs,” UFF said.
While signing the bill at a Florida middle school in June 2021, DeSantis said he often hears from parents concerned that if they send a child to a college or university setting, they will be “indoctrinated.”
“We obviously want our universities to be focused on critical thinking, academic rigor,” DeSantis said. “We do not want them as basically hotbeds for stale ideology. That’s not worth tax dollars and it’s not something that we’re gonna be supporting going forward.”
On July 6, 2022, Bryan Griffin, DeSantis’ deputy press secretary, posted a statement on Twitter debunking the viral claims, stating that the surveys are “anonymous, voluntary and no personal information is collected by them at all.”
“The goal of this legislation is to ensure no one feels as though a political ideology is being forced on them in higher education, from any angle. College should be a place that teaches you how to think, not what to think. The survey is designed to help us better understand the extent of this bias on Florida campuses, and asks respondents whether they fear reprisal on their college campus for expressing their political ideology," Griffin wrote.
And Stephen King, who originally tweeted the claim, has since deleted his tweet. In a new tweet, he acknowledged his claim was false.
The State Board of Education is required to publish the results of the survey by Sept. 1, 2022.