Legislation to pry into academic minds gets failing grade
Written by Michael Lewis on March 19, 2019
One of the worst ideas ever to taint Florida’s Legislature surfaced last week: a bill to require that all public Florida universities survey faculty and students about their personal viewpoints.
The apparent aim is to root out professors who push students to adopt the “wrong” political viewpoints.
I say “apparent” because even the House bill’s sponsor says he has no idea what the Legislature would do with the mountains of results. “Whoever the future policymakers are will have to address that,” said Rep. Ray Rodrigues. “Not me, because I am term-limited.”
Okay, so we are going to force universities to spend millions to pry into the thoughts of every student and every teacher, compile those thoughts and then see what the Legislature wants to do with them, if anything.
Meanwhile, someone has to read and categorize everyone’s thoughts about exactly what? Do we care if the football coach is more liberal than the basketball coach? Should a right tackle on the football team be more conservative than the left tackle? Do we survey social issues, and if so which ones? How about quality-of-life issues like traffic or taxes or education spending? Which is the “right” view?
What if some of the 341,000 students don’t want thought police prying into their minds? If they won’t answer, is the penalty lower grades? Do they get expelled for holding sacred the privacy of thoughts?
The bill doesn’t specify who would ask the questions, or how detailed questions must be. Maybe each university would ask its own, or maybe there’d have to be statewide meetings to agree which issues are most vital for the Legislature to plow through to determine if some professor’s thinking isn’t proper.
Moreover, who decides what proper is? Isn’t this a nation whose entire foundation is freedom of thought and belief? And if that is true – and it is – nobody anywhere has any business trying to question what a student or a professor believes. The Spanish Inquisition into beliefs was over a long time ago.
In fact, it’s been almost a century since the Scopes trial over Tennessee’s barring of the teaching of evolution because that legislature knew that evolution didn’t exist – so the substitute teacher who espoused it was fined $100.
Now evolution is generally recognized as scientific fact – though if someone wants to believe the opposite, that’s his or her right. There should be academic freedom if a professor wants to question that or any other “accepted” wisdom.
That’s the whole point: who has any right to decide what you or I am allowed to believe? Or to decide that too many people think like you do so some have to go to “balance” the thinking. Remember, most of us today consider that the majority was wrong in the Scopes case. Even in science, there can be contradictory opinions, and sometimes the minority is proved right.
Moreover, even if some professor is off the deep end, students have everything to gain by analyzing and rejecting professorial rants. In later life students will run into all manner of thoughts, valid, shaky and just plain nuts. They need to learn early to differentiate one from another and how to rebut ideas that they dismiss. There’s no need for a campus cocoon to shield 341,000 bright young minds from ideas with which the “adult” majority in Tallahassee disagrees.
No way on earth would this survey, if undertaken, improve education in Florida, unless the sole objective of our universities is to teach that political correctness is everything.
Later in life these students will put their viewpoints into action daily and, one hopes, regularly at the ballot box. Voting is the only way we should ask for political opinions – and the ballot box is totally secret. In this country there is no mandate that we even vote. That’s up to each of us.
Why in the world would Florida mandate the airing of views? Believe me, plenty of long-winded airing occurs every day on every campus by both professors and students on every topic. We don’t need thought police to pry out views so that the Legislature can label the “right” opinions. As in the Scopes case, even a legislative majority can be dead wrong.
The last place on earth to mandate politically correct ideas is a university. This bill by Rep. Rodrigues, and its companion by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah, would teach our students exactly the wrong lesson about open-mindedness. The bills deserve failing grades.