Florida Higher Ed Bills Don't Fight Indoctrination, they Limit FreedomRoundup
Jessica L. Adler is an associate professor of history at Florida International University.
On Feb. 21, House Bill 999 was introduced in the Florida Legislature, the latest in a slew of proposals aimed at reshaping the state’s public university system. PEN America maintains that the bill contains “the most draconian and censorious restrictions” yet, highlighting that it would ban majors and minors that espouse certain “belief systems” and allow political appointees far removed from the classroom to hire and fire professors at will.
One might, in fact, read the proposed law as a striking rebuke to the approximately 340,000 people studying at Florida’s 12 public universities, and the thousands of high school students who aspire to do so. All of them, HB999 suggests, need select government officials to dictate which information and resources they may access on campus. Incapable of making their own choices about rejecting or embracing certain ideas, their freedoms and opportunities should be more limited than many of their private university counterparts and fellow citizens.
The underlined portions of the draft legislation — the points HB999 aims to introduce to Florida law — are breathtaking in scope. Equally provocative are the sections of text crossed out in the draft — words it aims to remove from state law.
Take, for example, the bill’s section on the mandate of an institute for the study of politics at Florida State University. HB999 would strike from law its previously stated purpose — “to provide the southeastern region of the United States with a world class, bipartisan, nationally renowned institute of politics.”
Leaving the institute’s mission undetermined, the bill alters its goals. It should no longer aim to broadly “provide students with an opportunity to be politically active and civically engaged,” but instead, should, more pointedly, “foster an understanding of how individual rights, constitutionalism, separation of powers, and federalism function.” Some existing mandates of the institute — for example, that it should “create and promote research and awareness regarding politics, citizen involvement, and public service” — are stricken with no new suggested language.
Removing from the record terms like “civically engaged” and “bipartisan,” and prescribing a set of acceptable topics of study, raises questions. Are legislators aiming to limit the viewpoints that students can access? Do they intend to take away opportunities for them to learn about “citizen involvement” and “public service”? Why?
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