© 2023 WFSU Public Media
WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Academic freedom gets the focus at a Florida higher education summit

Jeremy C. Young is Senior Manager of Free Expression and Education at PEN America. He spoke at New College of Florida in Sarasota.
Cathy Carter
WUSF Public Media
Jeremy C. Young is Senior Manager of Free Expression and Education at PEN America. He spoke at New College of Florida in Sarasota.

A bill making its way through the Florida Legislature would bring significant changes to the state's public colleges and universities and opponents say the measure poses a threat to academic freedom.

The proposal — known as HB 999 — would, among other things, place restrictions on what ideas faculty and students can talk about on campus. It bans any funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and would allow appointees of Gov. Ron DeSantis to evaluate and hire faculty.

Jeremy Young of PEN America, an organization that advocates for freedom of expression, spoke at an education summit hosted by faculty at New College of Florida in Sarasota on Saturday.

"If these laws make it so that only one set of viewpoints can be taught, only one set of viewpoints can be expressed in higher education, then students will graduate not knowing about the world around them and they will be unprepared to serve as citizens in our democratic society," Young said.

During his inaugural speech in January to usher in his second term, DeSantis vowed to rein in what he called "trendy ideology" in higher education. Young said colleges are an essential guarantor of democracy.

“They prepare students to be citizens better than any other system we've ever devised," Young said. "But that only happens if those students are free to think and to speak and to learn without government censorship."

Young also said Florida has become the "epicenter of educational censorship" but encouraged educators to speak out if they feel safe to do so.

The conference featured a panel of educators from public institutions across the state, including the University of South Florida, Eckerd College, the University of Florida, and Florida Gulf Coast University. Andrew Gothard, president of United Faculty of Florida, delivered opening remarks.

"Every student, every faculty member has the right to teach, to learn, to research to write, to read, whatever they wish,” Gothard said. "No authoritarian governor, no donor to the institution, no partisan Board of Trustees appointee, has the right to come in and tell you that you don't get to do that, because the role of higher education, not just in Florida, but across the world, is to advance human knowledge.”

Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF 89.7.

Cathy Carter is the education reporter for WUSF 89.7 and StateImpact Florida.