The United Faculty of Florida and the March For Our Lives Action Group are challenging the constitutionality of a 2021 Florida law passed by the Legislature that allows university students to record professors while they lecture, enacted an anti-shielding provision and led to viewpoint diversity surveys.
The trial is being held in Tallahassee and is being presided over by Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker.
House Bill 233 is one of several recent state education laws promoted by Gov. Ron DeSantis and approved by the Legislature that opponents say brings into question issues of academic freedom.
The law specifically states that students can now secretly record professors during lectures for their “own personal use, in connection with a complaint to the public institution of higher education where the recording was made, or as evidence in, or in preparation for, a criminal or civil proceeding.”
Before the bill was established, students at state universities had to ask professors for permission to record lectures.
HB 233 also states that the State Board of Education and the Board of Governors must create objective surveys in which they test to see the “extent” to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented in college courses.
In a press conference held in June 2022, where Gov. DeSantis signed the bill, he outlined why he believed the law was a necessary addition for our public university system.
“It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you would be exposed to a lot of different ideas but unfortunately now these are more intellectually repressive environments,” said DeSantis. “We don’t want that in Florida, you need to have a true contest of ideas and not be shielded.”
The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the court challenge to the law.
Those two key provisions of the bill, along with a third anti-shielding provision, are what the plaintiffs, in this case, challenged on the grounds of privacy and academic freedom within the university system.
“Notice how the three provisions are punishing: it is all framed around harm,” said Andrew Gothard, president of the United Faculty of Florida. “When a faculty member or student looks at that, they look and see that the goal is to punish faculty who do or say things that are deemed bad by what the governor and Legislature.”
The parties challenging the law extend beyond professors and students. The March For Our Lives action group also joined in.
“They believe [the bill] will chill their rights as an organization,” said Gothard. “Students will feel intimidated and that they could be punished for joining this organization and participating in their actions, but that’s just what’s on legal filing.”
SFMN reached out to March for Our Lives for comment but they did not respond.
Gothard said the recording law is just one of several attacks on academic freedom. He pointed to actions DeSantis took on Jan.31, when he released his Higher Education Reform proposal, which seeks to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion programs on campus, and allows for the board of trustees to review tenured professors at will.
“The governor and his supporters have made it very clear that only one ideology can be promoted on campus and that is a conservative ideology,” says Gothard. “The Legislature is willing to tear down any barriers that have been constructed that keep politicians out of the classroom.”