Education

Not even 3% of Florida university system students respond to ‘viewpoint diversity’ survey

Dive Brief:

  • Only a sliver of students in the State University System of Florida responded to a controversial state-mandated survey designed to measure “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on campuses.
  • Less than 3% of students given the survey took it. State legislators required all public colleges to administer the survey to students, faculty and staff with a law passed in 2021. The survey asks how comfortable they are expressing their personal beliefs and whether they think institutions welcome varied political opinions. 
  • The employee response rate, a little less than 10%, was slightly higher than the student one. Survey results for the Florida College System, which is controlled by the state’s education board, have not yet been made public. 

Dive Insight:

When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, last year signed the bill requiring the questionnaire, he called colleges “intellectually repressive environments.” 

His remarks reinforced fears state GOP leaders would use the survey’s conclusions to suss out which institutions have strong liberal inclinations and potentially punish them, such as by targeting their tenured faculty. 

State policymakers who supported the legislation establishing the survey said it was meant to ensure colleges protect free speech, but its critics called it redundant, as public institutions must already enforce First Amendment principles.

Conservatives across the country often accuse colleges of being liberal bastions that squash opposing viewpoints. 

United Faculty of Florida, which represents thousands of educators in the state, in April urged students and staff to boycott the survey, around the time colleges sent an invitation to complete it. The union also filed a lawsuit to stop the survey from being administered. The lawsuit is ongoing.

UFF later flagged flaws in the survey administration it said could invalidate its results. The survey was conducted online through SurveyMonkey, and students and employees were able to send a link containing it to those outside the higher education systems.

Early reports indicate students in the 12-campus university system mostly ignored the survey request. 

The highest response rates came at Florida Polytechnic University and New College of Florida, where about 12% of those who received the survey answered it. About 170 students took it at Florida Polytechnic and 77 at New College.

The lowest response rate was at Florida A&M University, a historically Black institution. More than 8,390 students were sent the survey and only 53 took it, for a 0.6% response rate.

Across the system, 8,835 students responded to the survey, while it was sent to 368,120 — a 2.4% response rate.

A vast majority of students who took the survey, about 85%, reported they either agree or strongly agree that they were able to express political viewpoints without fear of repercussion. 

About 6% of students said they either disagreed or strongly disagreed with that idea. 

Roughly half of students said they disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that their professors use class time to espouse their own political beliefs without discussing them objectively. 

About a quarter of respondents said they agreed or strongly agreed with that statement.

Among employees, about 40% said they agreed or strongly agreed that they were intimidated by the idea of sharing thoughts or political opinions because they differed from their colleagues. However, a little under half also said they agreed or strongly agreed that their institution equally tolerated and was equally welcoming of liberal and conservative views.

The system’s governing board barely discussed the findings at its latest meeting. The survey results that have been released are a preliminary version. The final iteration is expected to be published before Sept. 1. 

The law requires public colleges to conduct the survey every year.

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