University professors are afraid. Florida’s crackdown on ‘woke’ academia is already working | Editorial

·3 min read
Pedro Portal/pportal@miamiherald.com

Florida’s recent crackdown on academic freedom at public universities and colleges already is having its apparent intended effect — professors are muzzling themselves.

In a story published Tuesday, the Miami Herald spoke to eight professors from four public universities across the state about their concerns about new laws dealing with discussions about race and gender, tenure and “intellectual diversity.”

Two of those professors did not want to be identified. They feared retribution.

Wouldn’t you?

The state government that passed a law to punish one the state’s most powerful and popular corporations — Disney — for being too “woke” wouldn’t think twice before crushing professors for speaking out of term. Since Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republicans like to invoke the dangers of communism so much, we’ll use this tired old line: This is the stuff right out of Fidel Castro’s playbook.

Comparisons to dictators should be used sparingly. But Florida leaders defy reason when they profess to fight for “intellectual diversity” while instilling fear into faculty and inserting the state into classrooms.

Last year, lawmakers passed legislation that requires universities and state colleges to “annually assess the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity at that institution” through a survey created by DeSantis-appointed state bureaucrats. One must wonder what his administration will do with the survey results — and we doubt universities won’t pay the price if they are deemed too liberal. The state will compile and publish that information starting on Sept. 1. The new law also allows students to secretly record professors for use in a criminal or civil proceeding.

The point of House Bill 233 is to prevent universities from shielding students from “ideas and opinions that they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive.” That sounds great on paper. But what “diverse” points of views will professors be forced to entertain? As a University of Florida computer science professor explained to the Herald, could a geography instructor be challenged by a student who believes the Earth is flat?

This new law is only one piece in efforts to reshape education according to an ideological mold. House Bill 7 will regulate classroom instructions on race and gender. Universities risk losing funding, for example, over lessons that may be construed as telling college students they bear responsibility and “must feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress because of actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex or national origin.” DeSantis dubbed the law the “Stop WOKE Act,” but it might be best described as the “Snowflake act.”

Another law DeSantis signed in April will make it harder for professors to retain tenure — the job security designed to ensure academic freedom and protect them from retaliation by government officials. Every five years, tenured faculty will have to go through a review by their university’s board of trustees, which could part ways with them. Guess who appoints most of those trustees? Republicans and the governor.

On its face, holding tenured professors accountable and having performance metrics isn’t a bad idea. It’s the timing of this law that raises suspicion that it won’t be used to ensure the best and brightest are teaching but, rather, to cleanse higher education from outspoken faculty.

“It’s all about trying to make these institutions more in line with what the state’s priorities are and, frankly, the priorities of the parents throughout the state of Florida,” DeSantis said when he signed Senate Bill 7044.

How presumptuous of the governor to speak on behalf of all Florida parents. Hard-working families want their children to get a good education, and there’s little to no evidence that colleges are indoctrination camps for the left.

It is DeSantis and his sycophants in the Legislature who have made it a priority to compel educators to toe their partisan ideology. In the process, they risk the reputation of Florida’s university system, one that the state has spent decades and millions of dollars cultivating.