William March: USF faculty weigh in on proposed ‘free speech’ policies at state universities

Hillsborough County voters will see a crowded judicial ballot in 2020, and two possible GOP opponents for Adam Hattersley.
Published April 18
Updated April 18

Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed that state universities adopt “free speech” policies designed to ensure conservative viewpoints aren’t stifled in the liberal political climate on campus and conduct annual “assessments” of campus ideological diversity.

Is that needed at the University of South Florida? The Times asked some politically astute USF faculty members:

Susan MacManus, Distinguished University Professor Emerita and local political analyst: “I think it’s needed. There needs to be an educational campaign on college campuses about what freedom of speech actually means. Polls show there’s very little knowledge of it. … I had a really good mix of ideologies in my classes, but conservative students tend to keep their mouths shut for fear they’ll be badgered by colleagues. Whatever profession you go into, you’ve got to work with people from different backgrounds.”

Wayne Garcia, mass communications instructor, veteran local journalist and political consultant: “I think the issue here is defining hate speech. Today’s college students … have a very broad definition of hate speech” and feel it should not have constitutional protections. “There is a generational divide over free speech and politicians are very willing to use the issue as a proxy war for all things in Washington or in the next election. Having the kind of discussion prompted by Gov. DeSantis’ statement can actually be a very good and enriching process.”

Steven Tauber, director of the School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies: The proposal is “a solution in search of a problem,” and “stems from a misguided or even nefarious view among politicians that professors try to indoctrinate students. … Even though I am to the left I go out of my way to present conservative and moderate views” in class and have rebuked students for denigrating peers’ conservative views. In evaluating faculty, “I’ve never seen a case of clear evidence” of ideological slant in teaching. “I also have a concern that this idea could be extended to areas where there are not legitimate debates. I don’t want a geologist to have to present the idea that climate change is not happening, or a biologist have to teach the idea that evolution doesn’t exist, or an astronomer that the world is flat.”

Darryl Paulson, Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg: “The purpose of universities is not to make students comfortable; it is to expose students to a diversity of views, even those they find offensive.” Liberal orthodoxy dominates most campuses, which harms both sides — liberals’ views are never challenged, and conservatives “are likely to be mocked by other students and faculty. Universities need to do a better job of making sure that conservative students can be heard, and conservative faculty will be hired.”

Crowded Hillsborough judicial ballot for 2020

Many voters who aren’t lawyers hate the part of the ballot with the judge’s races because they have no idea whom to vote for, and in 2020 in Hillsborough County, they’ll have a bigger problem than usual.

There’s likely to be an unusually large number of local judicial races on the ballot, eight or more compared to only three last year, plus the usual state court of appeal retentions, said Mark Proctor, a local political consultant who specializes in judicial races.

That’s because of retirements — seven circuit judges and one county judge have announced retirements or are expected to. Nine candidates have already filed, with one contested circuit judge race.

But if that’s a problem for voters, it’s worse for lawyers, whose campaign contributions fuel the races.

Judicial candidates aren’t allowed to ask for money directly, and form committees to do it for them, usually heavy with lawyers.

“If you have eight candidates trying to raise money who can’t ask for it, it’s daunting,” said Clif Curry, a politically active East Hillsborough lawyer. “The money’s going to be tougher for all eight to raise — that’s probably why they’re jumping in early.”

Hattersley opponents lining up

Local Republicans have been searching for a candidate to take back a state House seat they consider rightfully theirs — east Hillsborough’s District 59, narrowly won by Democrat Adam Hattersley in 2018 after having been traditionally represented by Republicans for decades.

They now have a couple of possibilities: civil litigation lawyer Mike Owen of Brandon, who’s never run for office before but has been involved in numerous GOP campaigns, including those of his former law partner, former state House member and now U.S. Rep. Ross Spano.

“I’m trying to decide the next couple of weeks,” said Owen, a lifelong Brandon resident whose family is well-known in the community. “The big thing for me is what does it do for my law practice.”

Joe Wicker, who lost to Hattersley, has said he believes the GOP can take the seat back in 2020, is “definitely looking at 2020,” he said.

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The Geo private prison corporation says it has facilities for detaining illegal immigrant families in Texas but not in South Florida. A story April 12 suggested otherwise.

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