A wide-ranging higher education package, which includes a controversial mandate for an annual “intellectual freedom” survey on state university campuses, was backed unanimously by a Senate panel on Tuesday.
The bill (SB 1296), sponsored by Senate Education Chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, is similar to legislation (HB 839) approved by a House panel last week. The survey, supported by conservatives and opposed by Democrats on the Senate Education Committee, would assess “the extent to which competing ideas, perspectives, and claims of truth are presented” on campus and whether the university community feels “safe and supported in exploring and articulating their beliefs and viewpoints” in the classroom.
An effort by Sen. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, to strip the survey requirement from the bill failed. Republicans, including Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said the survey was important to ensure that viewpoints like his are also taken into account in the state university system.
While the survey is a polarizing issue in the bill, the measure also includes changes to how the Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system, will operate. That includes changes to the way the board can request money from the Legislature. The bill would require board legislative requests to include 5-year trend information about ratios of students to faculty and administrators at each university.