Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed legislation that he said will push schools to support "intellectual diversity" while expanding civic education and adding more focus against communism and totalitarian governments.
In the three bills the Republican governor signed on Tuesday, public universities and colleges are also now required to survey their faculty, staff, and students about their beliefs and viewpoints to determine "the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented" and to determine if they "feel free to express beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom," reports The Miami Herald.
DeSantis, while signing the bills at a Lee County middle school, said it was important for students to understand the evil nature of communist and totalitarian governments.
"Why would somebody flee across shark-infested waters, say leaving from Cuba, to come to southern Florida?" he said. "Why would somebody leave a place like Vietnam? Why would people leave these countries and risk their life to be able to come here?"
One of the bills requires developing a new K-12 civics curriculum that will include the use of "portraits in patriotism" to tell stories of people who have been civic-minded, and will include "first-person accounts of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies who can compare those philosophies with those of the United States."
The new legislation also requires state university students to to take a course on civic literacy and pass an exam on the topic before they can graduate.
Meanwhile, the college diversity of opinion bill, which will go into effect on July 1, does not say what will be done with the survey, but both the governor and bill sponsor Sen. Ray Rodrigues suggested that schools can face budget cuts if it is determined they are "indoctrinating" students.
"That’s not worth tax dollars and that’s not something that we’re going to be supporting moving forward," DeSantis said.
He also said that the law for colleges and universities is intended to keep them from becoming "hotbeds for stale ideology."
"It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you’d be exposed to a lot of different ideas," DeSantis said. "Unfortunately, now the norm is, these are more intellectually repressive environments. You have orthodoxies that are promoted, and other viewpoints are shunned or even suppressed."
Democrats have argued that the bill could allow politicians to regulate campus speech, while some university faculty members are saying they fear the legislation will hinder their freedom of speech.
The University of Florida said it believes the survey will reflect that it offers a "marketplace of ideas where a wide variety of opinions are expressed and independent inquiry and vigorous academic deliberation are valued."
Other major universities like Florida State University have not immediately commented on the new legislation.
State GOP lawmakers on Tuesday spoke out in favor of the bill and slammed state universities for not having a "diversity of thought."
Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, told a state university systems Board of Governors meeting Tuesday in St. Petersburg that there are "socialism factories."
"We always hear about the liberal parts of the university system, and we don’t hear so much of that from the college system," Simpson said.
State House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, was at DeSantis' press conference, and said the lack of intellectual diversity on university campuses "have decided that one ideological standard will win the day, but the thing is we’re losing because we’re not having real conversations."
DeSantis is busy this week signing bills, after having signed 44 measures into law on Monday alone, according to a press release from his office.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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