TALLAHASSEE – All state colleges and universities should develop resolutions outlining their free speech policies, with an eye toward greater diversity of thought on campus, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday.
Incidents at other schools in recent years where opponents shouted down controversial speakers or disinvite speakers over fears of vocal or violent protests shouldn’t happen on Florida campuses, he said.
“I think that demonstrates a lack of commitment to the free exchange of ideas,” DeSantis said during a news conference at Florida State University. “Some universities throughout our country preach diversity but yet they reject intellectual diversity and seem to impose an orthodoxy. That is not the role of a university.”
DeSantis called on the schools to adopt a set of principles outlined by the University of Chicago in 2014, known as the “Chicago statement,” and seen by campus free speech advocates as the standard all universities should adopt.
“You often hear about a crisis in free speech on college campuses, and I think that may be true in certain areas but I don’t think Florida has gone down that road,” DeSantis said. “And so by embracing the Chicago statement and by getting all these universities and college presidents on board I think we’re showing that Florida welcomes debate.”
The move comes as colleges all over the country grapple with how to handle controversial speakers, typically conservatives, who’ve brought vociferous protests from students, sometimes leading to the speaker being disinvited.
In October 2017, white nationalist Richard Spencer spoke at the University of Florida, sparking protests and a large police presence — then-Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency — to prevent unrest. Spencer was largely shouted down by protesters. The event happened two months after white nationalists marched in Charlottesville on the University of Virginia, where one person was killed after a white nationalist drove a vehicle into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, called the issue a “fake crisis” in a Twitter post.
“That’s the irony, UF allowed Spencer to come. Governor is fueling flames for no reason,” she said in another post.
The GOP-led Legislature has shown concern conservative voices are being muzzled on campuses.
Lawmakers last year eliminated so-called “free speech zones” on university and college campuses, with supporters saying free speech shouldn’t be only for set aside areas. And this year proposals are in the works to survey faculty and students about the degree of intellectual freedom in classrooms.
DeSantis, though, wouldn’t say if he supported those measures.
“I’m not exactly sure about those particular bills. I would say generally having a diverse faculty I think is important,” DeSantis said. “I think it’s important how we do that but we also have to look and see what’s in those bills. But I think that when you have all the same viewpoint being presented that I think sells students short.”
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