Florida Law Allows College Students to Record Lectures, Mandates Viewpoint Diversity Survey

June 24, 2021 Updated: June 24, 2021

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed into law legislation allowing college students to record class sessions for potential complaints about professors who violate their freedom of expression.

“It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you’d be exposed to a lot of different ideas,” the Republican governor said at a June 22 press conference. “Unfortunately, now the norm is, these are more intellectually repressive environments. You have orthodoxies that are promoted, and other viewpoints are shunned or even suppressed.”

Under the new law (pdf), students are allowed to record video or audio of classroom lectures, so long it’s for their own personal educational use, or if they want to use the recording as evidence in a civil or criminal case against their school. However, a recorded lecture cannot be published without the consent of the lecturer, and those recordings must follow federal student privacy laws, or the professor could seek damages up to $200,000.

Another part of the law bans the use of so-called “safe space.” Specifically, it prohibits public universities in Florida from “shielding” students, faculty, and staff from any free speech activities conducted on campus, regardless whether they may find those ideas and opinions “uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable or offensive.”

The new law also requires the state university system’s Board of Governors and the State Board of Education to conduct and publish an annual survey to “assess intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” in public universities and colleges. The goal is to find whether “competing ideas and perspectives” are fairly presented during lectures and whether students, faculty, and staff “feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints” on campus or in the classroom.

DeSantis and state Senator Ray Rodrigues, the Republican sponsor of the original legislation, suggested Tuesday that state-funded institutions that receive poor results in the viewpoint diversity survey could be at risk of budget cuts, although the language in the bill doesn’t specify who will use the survey data for what purpose.

“That’s not worth tax dollars and that’s not something that we’re going to be supporting moving forward,” DeSantis said.

A number of states are considering similar measures in efforts to promote diversity of political beliefs in public colleges and universities. In Iowa, legislation introduced in February seeks to survey all employees of the three state universities on their political affiliations and submit the results to the state legislature. The survey would distinguish by job positions but not by individuals, and would only be conducted once.

Meanwhile in Idaho, the state legislature in May approved a plan to cut $2.1 million from university budgets in the 2021-2022 academic year, including $500,000 each from the University of Idaho and Idaho State University and $1.5 million from Boise State University. The cut, reported Idaho Stateman, quoting a Republican state Senator, was meant to “send a message” to public institutions that compel students to affirm or adopt a controversial political belief, such as critical race theory.