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Union urges Florida higher ed students and faculty to ignore 'intellectual freedom' surveys

Students walk and talk using mobile devices in university
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The United Faculty of Florida is calling on faculty, staff and students to avoid responding to the voluntary surveys.

As state leaders launched surveys Monday to measure “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on college and university campuses, Florida’s largest faculty union urged students and school employees to ignore the questionnaires.

The surveys are part of a law (HB 233) approved last year by the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis. The law requires state colleges and universities to conduct the surveys annually, with the first round starting this week.

But the United Faculty of Florida on Monday called on faculty, staff and students to avoid responding to the voluntary surveys.

“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,” the union said in a statement.

The union also is a plaintiff in an ongoing legal case challenging the law. A federal judge last week denied a request for a preliminary injunction that would have at least stalled the survey from going out.

University system Chancellor Marshall Criser touted the surveys last week during a meeting of the system’s Board of Governors.

“I hope this is a pride point when I talk to you again,” Criser told the board. “This has never been done in this country before. We are doing a hundred-percent census of our students, our faculty and our staff.”

A version of the surveys given to students asks how they perceive political leanings on campus, and how comfortable they feel expressing viewpoints. For instance, part of the survey asks students how much they agree or disagree with various statements.

“My college or university campus provides an environment for free expression of ideas, opinions, and beliefs,” one prompt said.

The same part of the survey probes students’ agreement or disagreement about whether their professors “use class time to express their own social or political beliefs without objectively discussing opposing social or political beliefs.”

The faculty union raised a concern that survey results could be used by lawmakers to “punish campuses” whose responses don’t “match the appropriate ideology.”

Patrick Niner, president of the faculty union at Florida Gulf Coast University, raised a concern that data from the surveys could be misrepresented.

“The state will frame any data collected from this survey, regardless of what it shows, as evidence that our profession indoctrinates students. I see no reason, then, for our faculty to willingly provide information for that purpose when the entire instrument was designed to hurt higher education in the first place,” Niner said in a statement.

Other parts of the survey are geared toward gauging students’ views on campus political ideologies.

“My professors or course instructors are generally more: Conservative, Liberal, Other, Don’t know,” a multiple-choice question asked.

The survey asks demographic questions such as students’ race, gender, level of study and whether they are full-time or part-time. The questions about demographic information are another reason the union is criticizing the survey.

A version of the survey provided to college and university employees asks several questions related to how respondents view the political leanings of their colleagues and students.

One such question asks if professors think receiving tenure is contingent on an educator’s political persuasion.

“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:” the question says, giving three options, “Liberal,” “Conservative” and “Other.”

Another question for faculty members asks how often they “inject” their political views into classroom discussions.

“I rarely inject my own political ideas and beliefs into my classes,” the question said, presenting a range of options from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.”

The faculty union also took issue with the questions’ phrasing.

“Many of the survey’s questions are leading in nature and imply that there is a problem of viewpoint fairness on our campuses already — this is a conclusion searching for evidence, rather than the other way around,” the union’s statement said.

Results from the survey responses will be reported to state leaders by September.